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Familiar Issues Show Early In Dallas Stars Season

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Defense, goaltending struggle in 1-1 start; offense shines in first two games

NHL: Dallas Stars at Colorado Avalanche
Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff will look to shore up defensive issues before Tuesday’s game in Nashville.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

The Stars come out in the first period, and using their speed and skill they take an early lead on an opponent - such as they did Saturday in Denver.

However, in a moment’s notice, the tables seem to turn and the ice becomes titled.

The defense falters. The offense stalls. And goaltending becomes shaky.

Lindy Ruff will then work his magic and the Stars, well, become the Stars again. But it’s too little, too late.

Sound familiar? It should, because it was the scene that played out in a 6-5 loss Saturday at the Pepsi Center, and one the Stars saw too many times last season.

Defense

Dallas entered the season with a different look on the backend. Stephen Johns, Patrick Nemeth and Dan Hamhuis give the Stars’ defensive unit more size than it had the year prior with Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell.

While it can be argued Johns has been the best defenseman during the fist two games - especially in the opener against Anaheim - the defense is not gelling.

John Klingberg has been solid, averaging 23:56 of ice time the first two games and is a plus-2, according to ESPN.com

Johns and Johnny Oduya are a combined minus-3 on the young season.

Ruff and the coaching staff want to utilize an up-tempo, puck-possession game that forces the opposing team to deal with speed and numbers on the attack. The flip side, the defense must be able to react and recover if the offensive attack stalls.

Right now, they are simply not reacting well, giving up eight goals in the first two games.

Goalie

Behind the defense is another question mark - possibly a solar-system sized one: goaltending.

Antti Niemi was fantastic against the Ducks, but received little help Saturday. He was eventually pulled in the third for Kari Lehtonen, who faired a little better (one goal on 13 shots). Niemi and Lehtonen have combined to give up 8 goals on 68 shots, which is a .793 save percentage.

Goaltending was the Stars’ Achilles heel so many times last season. Anyone remember game 7 against St. Louis?

Too many times last season Ruff had to switch back and forth, seemingly on a nightly basis, between Niemi and Lehtonen. Ruff even juggled his net minders in the playoffs against both Minnesota and St. Louis.

Lehtonen will most likely get the start tonight in Nashville. The only question, though, is how long will it be before Ruff makes the switch — and if Lehtonen will get help in front of him.

To say the season lies on the padded shoulders of Niemi and Lehtonen is unfair, but every misstep will be critiqued and the goalie carousel could have already begun.

Offense

The bright spot early on for this Stars team has been the offense. Dallas’s nine goals in its first two games puts them at No. 8 in the league early this season.

While coming out sluggish against Anaheim and not doing much of anything in the second period against Colorado, the Stars’ offensive skill is evident.

Brett Ritchie, Adam Cracknell and Devin Shore have slid right in to the roster, and have been contributing early on. The pairing of Ritchie and Shore on Saturday seemed to energize Sharp, and the rest of the team.

Shore is tied with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Been and Patrick Eaves for the team lead in points (3) and both Ritchie and Cracknell have 2 points on the season.

Jason Spezza, Jiri Hudler, Radek Faksa and Patrick Sharp have yet to find the back of the net. The addition of Cody Eakin later this year will only add depth to the lineup.

However, the offense will stall for a period, a few minutes or even longer. The Stars were outshot (33-28) and out hit (25-23) in Denver, with most of the damage coming in the second stanza.

The Stars did score twice in the second period, but only after Neimi was pulled and Colorado scored five consecutive goals.

All three phases - offense, defense and goaltending - are capable of playing a full 60 minutes. With 80 games left there is plenty of time to make tweaks. And Ruff and company most certainly will.

Once the Stars find their legs, and shore up lingering issues, this team can be even better than last year’s squad - a team that won the Central Division and regular season Western Conference title.

And that’s a scary thought.