The Dallas Stars performance against the Vancouver Canucks was certainly an interesting and at time puzzling one -- at times absolutely brilliant offensively yet later the defensive breakdowns after being up five goals could have cost them the game. If it weren't for the heroics of Kari Lehtonen, we'd be discussing one of the biggest meltdowns in franchise history; instead, the discussion is about how the team needs to improve while riding a 3-1-2 start to the season.
At least we're not covering the Colorado Avalanche.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff spoke after Wednesday's practice about how the changes on the team mean some adjustments have been necessary and that the Stars have gotten away from the style of play that was so successful last season.
"I think with the dynamics of our team changing a little bit...I think we won the game on skill yesterday, we made a lot of good skill plays," said Ruff. "But we lost our work ethic part of the game. Last year, we won the work ethic part almost 90 percent of the time, and that's where I'd like to get us back to."
With the Stars putting the Big Three on the top line together the past two days, the offense has been mighty impressive -- scoring 11 goals in just two games with Tyler Seguin leading the league in points. Yet the rest of the team, and even the top line, has been cheating a bit too much offensively and that's hurt them considerably.
"We're sorting that part out," said Ruff. "It's the tendency, when you have a 60-40 chance of making a skill play versus 'let's just make the right play', maybe 40 percent the skill play goes right for you. We've been leaning on the 60 percent side and it's hurt us in some situations, especially on the defensive side."
As such, lines on Wednesday were a bit back to "normal" with Jason Spezza back between Erik Cole and Ales Hemsky. Lines at practice looked like this:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Colton Sceviour
Erik Cole-Jason Spezza-Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff-Vernon Fiddler-Curtis McKenzie/Patrick Eaves
Jyrki Jokipakka-Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn-Brenden Dillon
Kevin Connauton-Jamie Oleksiak
"[Hemsky] has been battling through a little bit of an injury for a few games. I thought the last couple of games maybe have been [Hemsky's] best," Ruff told Mike Heika today. "He hasn't found the back of the net, but I really believe it is going to come. If he keeps doing the right things, that will come. It's a new city, new surroundings, new coaches. That takes time. You go around the league and look at players that have switched teams _ I can probably give you three or four right away, and you'll say, ‘Man, that guy hasn't scored yet.' It's not easy."
Once again, Ruff noted that these won't necessarily be the exact lines he'll use throughout the road trip and it's clear he likes the option of being able to put Spezza back on the top line if he's in need of immediate offense. The Stars coach stated that he's liked how his team has responded to adversity at times this season, such as the games against Columbus and Pittsburgh, and he knows his team has the ability get "mad" and fight for the game when it's needed.
The key, however, is to do so consistently. More importantly, the Stars need to figure out how to play with a lead.
"We've been good offensively, but I'd like to find a happy medium somewhere and clean up the defensive side, where we take care of that first, before we start leaning on the offensive side," Ruff said. "It cost us a point in the Philly game, where we were up two goals and we gave away a point. As a team, that could be a big point at the end of the year."
The absence of Alex Goligoski was notable, with rookie Jyrki Jokipakka taking his spot on the top pairing. The veteran defenseman was cut behind the ear on Tuesday and has been dealing with a nagging injury (perhaps from a blocked shot a few games ago) that kept him out of practice for a maintenance day. Ruff stated the team is hopeful he won't have to miss any time.
If Goligoski can't play in either of the games this weekend, expect the defensive pairs to be a bit shuffled.
Also of note - Valeri Nichushkin (groin) and Sergei Gonchar (ankle) are moving along swiftly as they fight back from their injuries. While neither will play on the upcoming road trip, there is optimism that the two Russians will be ready to rejoin the team soon.