The Dallas Stars played one of the team's worst games in years last week against the Winnipeg Jets, a disappointing setback against a Central Division rival just days after a complete effort against the Canadiens. The fans also showed their disapproval, vacating the AAC in droves prior to the start of the third period and for a few days -- it was clear the low point might have been reached.
While his Stars have struggled, Lindy Ruff himself hasn't been a coach that has not exactly responded well to his own adversity while a number of his decisions have hurt his team rather than helped it. In a season in which everyone was searching for answers and even the coach didn't seem to have them -- by his own admittance at times -- how Ruff and his team reacted to that Jets loss was certainly interesting and for the first time this season, the Stars finally responded.
Deservedly so, the Stars were pushed through a hard "conditioning practice" following that loss. It was a bag skate that would have made Herb Brooks proud, with Jason Spezza stating that it was the hardest he's ever been pushed in a practice. While Ruff's decisions at times have hurt his team, the simple fact is the Stars also had gotten away from what had worked so well in the past.
The Stars responded well, outworking a struggling New Jersey Devils team that wasn't quite as close as the final score might suggest. While it was far from perfect and there were some issues that once again reared up that have haunted the Stars all season, for once the Stars had finally started to look like "themselves" again, using four lines fairly evenly through the night and never really backing off -- even with the lead.
"I think with one game in about a week, we tried to max out with how hard we could test them again," said Ruff, regarding Monday's hard practice. "Today was another good work day, we worked on our neutral zone, we worked on getting pucks inside and I thought that part of practice was real good -- I thought the work in the practice was really good. Longer than normal, but I think for the amount we've played here in the last week about the right time."
Keeping that momentum going forward is going to be a struggle, however, as the NHL schedule makers have worked another lengthy break in between games. Yet such a break is easier to get through after a win, and for once the Stars might not have to reassemble brand new line combinations from one game to the next.
Travis Morin looks to get another shot on the third line, even though Travis Moen appears ready to return, as Ruff will likely stick with the same lines and defensive pairs that worked well at home against the Devils.
Benn - Spezza - Seguin
Roussel - Eakin - Hemsky
McKenzie - Morin - Cole
Horcoff - Fiddler - Sceviour
Goligoski - Klingberg
Jokipakka - Daley
Benn - Demers
While there were some pre-game consternation (including from this writer) over not having the AHL Super Line reassembled, the decision to stick Cole with Morin certainly worked well overall. That line was the best line overall for the Stars against New Jersey, and certainly were effective despite not being able to cash in on some prime chances.
The other big news from the day was that after his recall back to the NHL, Anders Lindback will start one of the first two games of the upcoming road trip.
"The goal is to get him in here right away on this road trip," said Ruff. "I'm going to get Lindback in. The goal was to get him back in. It does no good to get him down there, get him playing well, and then not play him. He'll get one of these first two games."
Lindback was exceptional in five games for the Texas Stars, going 3-2 with a 1.59 GAA and .946 save percentage. Those numbers, playing behind a struggling Stars defense, are nothing short of amazing and all reports were that he looked fantastic in net during those games. With Jack Campbell ailing while recovering from the flu, Lindback took advantage and forced his way back to the NHL level and will now get his chance to show that the good play down in Cedar Park can carry back over to the NHL.