There was some interesting debate over the line combinations Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff settled on heading into Thursday's game against the Arizona Coyotes, especially with Cody Eakin centering the top line. Ruff also moved Antoine Roussel to the wing on the second line and stated it was with the hope of adding a new element to the offensive attack by Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky -- a strategy that worked out to near-perfection in the game.
Ruff carefully constructed these lines with a specific plan in place in how he was going to deploy them, and he follow through with that plan using the matchup advantages he has on home ice.
The top two lines for the Dallas Stars last night both enjoyed over 70% of their starts in the offensive zone, putting the most gifted offensive players for the Stars in an immediate area of strength. Conversely, the bottom six of the Stars saw just under 25% of their starts in the offensive zone, as Ruff leaned heavily on those two lines to handle the load defensively, which worked....relatively well.
The possession numbers are about what you expect with those deployments, with the top lines enjoying a very good game in shot-differential. Aside from Vernon Fiddler (-10) and Travis Moen (-14), every other Stars forward were rather effective at even strength and it showed in one of the better defensive efforts this team has enjoyed in quite some time.
|Name||Corsi+/-||Fenwick+/-||Off ZS % Rel|
The tactic to specifically place two of his worst possession forwards deep into their own zone is a dubious one, however, and it will be interesting to see how this strategy would fare against a much more talented team than the Coyotes. For one night, however, it worked.
The decision to place Antoine Roussel on the second line also proved to be great move, as Roussel was instrumental in both goals scored by the Spezza line on Thursday.
At the start of the third period, when Spezza and Hemsky teamed up to get Klingberg the puck at the top of the circle, it was Roussel's drive to the net that cleared out space and created some havoc for the Stars defenseman to fire through.
Then, on the insurance goal with just minutes left in the game, Roussel had the puck with speed along the right wing and instead of just firing on net or throwing the puck in front he held on, eventually dropping it back to Spezza who did the rest.
It seems the Stars might have found, for now, what should be a great second line that now has the confidence and chemistry to continue to produce.
After the game, the Stars locker room was once again a sea of smiles and celebratory music -- a vast difference from the zombified look on their faces after Tuesday's loss to Carolina.
One question that many fans have had is what is going on in the locker room, with this team and whether all of the losses were leading to, or caused by, internal strife. After Thursday's win we had a chance to talk to Brenden Dillon about the win, and he had some great things to say about how the team has approached this very frustrating time in the season.
Here's his full quote, uncut.
"Anytime you're losing games, it doesn't matter how well or how bad you're doing personally," said Dillon. "I think for us to just get a win and be part of success like this -- it feels better. For the last couple of days and weeks, out on the rink with us not winning, it's sucked. And for yourself, you want to take care of yourself and make sure you're contributing in a positive way but at the same time you want to do your best to help those guys around you and get a win.
"I think, collectively, we've just got a good group of guys in here. It doesn't matter if you're married with three kids or you're a single guy that's just come up for his first game -- everyone gets along, everyone wants to work together for a win and that's why it was even more frustrating. We're not a bad group, we want to win it for the next guy.
"I think that's part of it, where we really wanted to make that work and get some wins. It's frustrating, but there's going to be ups and downs and I think it's sort of managing those. You never want to say 'it's a good time' but at least this was happening in the first 20 games, and we can say that this is an eye-opener and we have to be better. We have to push, it doesn't matter the schedule, there's no excuses and we just have to build off this."