In front of an energetic and fired up crowd, new Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi took to the ice with GM Joe Nieuwendyk and President & CEO Jim Lites to introduce a new era for hockey in North Texas. There was a feeling of hope and excitement at the American Airlines Center that had not existed in quite some time and fans were ecstatic to get to see the new owner of this franchise drop the puck before the game.
Seeing Jim Lites in the crowd after the game, talking to fans and thanking them for their support, was a tremendous boost to an already incredible night of hockey in Dallas. While Gaglardi had technically purchased the team on Friday it wasn't until Monday night that he was formally introduced as the new owner of the Stars and it was apparent there was a brand new feel around this team.
The fans were more optimistic, the music a bit more rockin' and more importantly -- the Dallas Stars returned to the level of play they enjoyed before their five-game losing streak in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
Perhaps it was getting the chance to talk to their new boss before the game. Perhaps it was the perfect time to play a team known for speed and agility and not much "hardness". Perhaps it was the infusion of speed, youth and energy into the lineup. More than likely, it was a new focus on just playing simple and good, hard hockey that helped this Stars team break out of a slump and rediscover that yes -- they can score goals and actually win a hockey game.
After yet another disappointing loss, mired in lost puck battles and bad penalties, coach Glen Gulutzan stated to the media that what his team needs to do is to just "shut up" and play their game. It was an astute yet simple solution, especially considering how the Stars had been so successful for the first 14 games of the season. This wasn't a team that had gotten off to a 11-3-0 start because of smoke and mirrors and good luck; this was an under-talented team that was winning because of good old-fashioned hard work and hustle.
That was the staple with which the Stars prided themselves before the loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins -- the "pesky Stars" -- a team that was hard to play against and forced teams into a physical game with a focus on frustrating offenses by forcing them to the perimeter. For most of five games, the Dallas Stars forgot how to accomplish this feat. It wasn't so much a systemic issue as it was the team getting away from what had worked so well before, with teams also making it a focus to exploit the Stars' penchant for losing their cool and taking bad penalties.
Against the Oilers, it was if all of the frustrations and bad graces of the previous five games had been erased. This looked like a brand new team, refocused and dedicated to what coach Gulutzan had been preaching all along. Puck battles were won and the Stars' defensive positioning was suddenly near-perfect.
It was amazing to see how a team that likely would have been beaten by the Allen Americans just a week before suddenly played one of their most complete performances of the season. This wasn't against a scrub team, as the Oilers had been playing some great hockey of late -- including scoring nine goals against the Chicago Blackhawks just a few nights before. This was a young, fast and talented team that was incredibly frustrated by the Dallas Stars for most of 60 minutes.
Compared to most of the Stars' wins this season, this particular victory was particularly an outlier. The Stars had become known for winning despite being outshot most games by a 2-to-1 margin, something that was arguably justifiable because of the limited scoring chances allowed each game. Against the Oilers, the Stars dominated the shots while also dominating physically, speaking to just how complete a win this was.
Much of the credit for this win should rest on the shoulders of Mike Ribeiro, who enjoyed perhaps his best game of the season. While he had just one assist on the night, Ribeiro was able to help provide better balance across the lines with his hard play from the start of the game, helping take some of the pressure off the top line -- something that was definitely not happening during the previous five games.
The insertion of Philip Larsen and Tomas Vincour into the lineup cannot be overlooked, either.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the Stars during the losing streak was the complete lack of defensive cohesion or transition game from the second and third defensive pairings, something that was hurting the Stars' chances of getting over their slump. With Larsen on the roster, helping to fill the role left void by the injury to Alex Goligoski, suddenly the defense was balanced again.
It's no coincidence that Mark Fistric had perhaps his best game of the season, paired with Goligoski for much of the game. Larsen was tremendous, making great passes out of the zone while also showing his ability to play physical at the NHL level. His near-goal off a beauty of a Jamie Benn pass was also a showcase for the offensive potential he possesses and it makes one consider the chances of Larsen getting minutes with Dallas even after Goligoski's return.
Vincour, once again, did everything but score. His hard work along the boards early in the game set the tone for the game and he again showed a penchant for finding the right places on the ice for offensive chances. While you certainly want to see more than two points in more than 20 NHL games, it's only a matter of time before Vincour is able to translate his AHL scoring success to the NHL.
The important thing is that the Stars continue to build on this win and don't forget what led to this success. They take on the Kings tonight, a team that they've played well against yet have not beaten in two tries. This win against Edmonton can be the catalyst for a rebound from a bad slump or it could be a singular bright spot in the middle of a giant black mark in the midst of a bad month of hockey.
The Stars know what they need to do to win and they showed that on Monday night. Let's see that once again.