Despite the Stars' recent run of winning a lot more games than they have lost, the season still doesn't look much like we were hoping it would come New Year's Eve. Dallas is sitting quite a ways back from an April dance invite, Ales Hemsky has been sputtering, and Kari Lehtonen has a ways to go until his statistics can show their face at a party of the cool goalie numbers again.
All has not been doom and gloom, though. While the defense hasn't been doing the team many favors for much of the season, it's worth remembering that one of the stated goals of the organization has been to get some of the young defensemen into the lineup on a regular basis. We witnessed Patrik Nemeth's surprising stranglehold on a roster spot in his brief stint last year (and this), and the departure of Robidas all but guaranteed spots for at least another one of the kids.
Well, add Sergei Gonchar and Brenden Dillon to the "see ya" list, and suddenly the Stars have found themselves giving ice time to rookies like they're a real estate agent living in your area who gives out magnet calendars. (This happens to me a lot, maybe not you as much.) And that in itself might be one of the best things about this season, no matter how it ends. Mike Heika put it like this:
"It’s real important," Ruff said when asked what this season means to the young defensemen. "It’s my decision to have these guys in the lineup playing, and we need to see them develop. As a coaching staff, we need to be patient with them, and we need to be firm with them."
When you consider that Patrik Nemeth is only 22 and stepped in to become a lineup regular at the start of the season, the group of young defenders is even more impressive.
Nemeth was solid in the playoffs last season but suffered an arm laceration five games into this season and could be out until April. Nemeth said he would like to return earlier, and that creates a possibility where the young defensemen will have their own competition.
That makes it even more important that they learn from the veterans now.
"As a veteran player, you always want to help the younger players," Daley said, pointing out that he received guidance from players such as Sergei Zubov and Stephane Robidas. "I can look back and remember so many of the older guys helping me from Zubie to Robi, and it just makes it easier. It’s hard to make the step up to the NHL; there’s a lot going on out there. So if we can do anything to make it easier for them, you know we’re going to do that." [DMN]
You've heard the Niskanen/Klingberg comparisons, but it's not unimportant. The ability to have a sterling young blueliner like ol' JK come of age next to a solid (yes, he is) player like Alex Goligoski is invaluable. As Klingberg's ice time has gone up and down, he's shown himself more than able to adapt. Jokipakka was asked to compete with Oleksiak for ice time, and he stepped up and claimed a spot for himself alongside Trevor Daley. These are early days yet, but the time being invested into the future of the Stars' defense is something to be grateful for, even after the Stars cool down from their current run.
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New Year's Eve Links are brought to you by my favorite verse from the famous melody. I try to live my life according to its wisdom:
We twa hae run about the braes
An pou'd the gowans fine
But we've wander'd mony a weary fitt
Sin' auld lang syne
Practice notes for Tuesday include Jamie Oleksiak's potential to play a game, Jordie Benn's maintenance day, and Kari Lehtonen's being good. [Stars]
Lindy Ruff thought the "checking line" did a great job against the Rick Nash line. [DMN]
Here's an overly prosaic way to write a headline about the "Greatest Rangers" Jumbotron troll job from the New York game. [SI]
The Panthers actually lost a shootout last night, but what a game it was, as Luongo and Dustin Tokarski dueled to what was truly a thrilling 1-1 tie for 65 minutes. Check out the highlights on this one and regret not being in Florida to watch this one. [NHL]
Florida's success has been due in large part to, surprise, the development of their young prospects a bit ahead of schedule. [TSN]
What are the best Winter Classic moments ever? [Puck Daddy]
In fact, this year's edition in D.C. might well turn out to have some of those moments, says Japers Rink. [JR]
More lists: Hockey By Design lambasts some Stadium Series sweaters, but I was kind of bemused by the hatred for the Ducks' road jersey. Here are the worst jerseys of the year. [HbD]
Check out some of Marty Turco's videos here for a good demonstration of the benefits of the Turco Grip. [Network Goaltending]
Not hockey-specific, but what happened when Jon Bois created a Twitter account and immediately Tweeted out the password to all his followers? Basically, picture Waterworld combined with Mad Max and a certain now-notorious Cabal. [SB Nation]
Finally, check out Shea Weber going cookie jar on a shorthanded rush to welcome back Brian Elliott. The goal would prove to be a game-winner for the Predators last night: