The Dallas Stars make their first stop in Canada tonight, taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the middle of hockey mecca. What better place, and what better time, to essentially "start fresh" after what was clearly the low point of the season on Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Stars lost while getting dominated on the scoreboard and on the stats sheet, in a game where the team looked more and more disheveled as time went on. It was a concerning and alarming loss and with the Stars mired in mediocrity and sitting near the bottom of the league in nearly all categories, something needs to change.
For the Stars, that means getting back to basics.
"I called it a system reset; we rebooted,'' Stars coach Lindy Ruff said on Monday. "We actually showed them some of our training camp video. I said, 'If we want to remain consistent, these are the things we have to do consistently.' And we haven't. We do them in spurts. When we do them well, we're a good team.
"I referenced last year -- 80 percent of the guys in that room had career years playing the way we need to play. I went through all that with them.''
ESPN's Pierre LeBrun has a good article up about the struggles of the team this year and the pressures on the players and coaches to succeed amid heightened expectations. It builds on what we've seen all season -- that this is a team where the talent shows the record should be better than it is, the players and coaches are all saying the right things, and this is just about finding a way to really play as a team, and consistently.
"They haven't defended well. I think the best part of their defending game last year is that they had the puck a lot, and they don't seem to be able to get a grip on their possession game,'' Daryl Reaugh told LeBrun.
"They've been rattled by poor third periods where they'd be in a game and either don't get a save or made really stupid plays with the puck or just flat-out couldn't score at the other end. When that started to multiply game after game, it was the same thing, I think they had a real serious 'Here we go again' syndrome built up in there. And they've had a tough time getting out of it.''
The Stars now try and pull out of that mentality with this "system reboot", a fresh start that will see some new lines and some old ones, with Lindy Ruff hinting these could be consistent combinations moving forward and he looks to settle things down a bit.
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Ales Hemsky
Erik Cole-Jason Spezza-Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff-Vern Fiddler-Travis Moen
Trevor Daley-Jason Demers
Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka-Jordie Benn-Jamie Oleksiak
"He's had some great opportunities, and he's gotten pretty down on himself when he's missed those opportunities," Ruff said regarding Hemsky, per Mike Heika. "I'm just trying to get him to play more our game, and I think lately he has been doing a better job of that."
"I think so," Ruff said, on whether playing Hemsky with Benn and Seguin could work to get his scoring touch back. "The last time they were together, he had some great opportunities. Again, I thought he got too caught up in the fact he didn't finish. I think if he does the right things and he's with those guys, the finish will be there."
A lot has been made about Hemsky only having one goal with the Stars, but playing on that top line his style of play is perfectly aligned to set up two of the best finishers in the NHL. This was the configuration many expected when Hemsky was signed this summer, and this is a great way to try and see if this can finally work.
The question then becomes how much Jason Spezza can do on that second line, and it's here that the absence of Valeri Nichushkin really starts to stand out.
Kari Lehtonen will be in goal, while Alex Goligoski will be a game-time decision. Based on observations from morning skate, it seems a conclusion that Goligoski will be playing tonight.