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Pulling The Right Strings

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Lindy Ruff deserves more credit after first 20 games

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Dallas Stars
Lindy Ruff has helped guide the Stars through rough waters during the first 20 games.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

After 20 games the Dallas Stars are 8-7-5 and now third in the Central Division - two points behind St. Louis for second in the division.

Dallas jumped Minnesota and Colorado into 7th in the Western Conference with 21 points after a 3-2 overtime win (finally!) Tuesday night against Minnesota.

And the fact that this incarnation of the Dallas Stars is in a playoff position - tied for fourth in the conference with its 21 points - is astounding.

The man that deserves more credit is head coach Lindy Ruff.

Lets take a quick peak at what Ruff has had to deal with since the end of last season.

Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski signed elsewhere.

Mattias Janmark done for the season with a knee injury. Ales Hemsky done for the season. Jamie Benn recovers from core surgery. Tyler Seguin injured during the World Cup of Hockey. Cody Eakin injures his knee during training camp. Valeri Nichuskin leaves for Russia.

Jason Spezza has been in and out of the lineup with an injury. Patrick Sharp sustained a concussion earlier in November. Jiri Hudler has been out since the first month of the season with an illness.

John Klingberg has struggled early on, and was scratched Tuesday night after missing a team meeting. Stephen Johns has been hot and cold and Johnny Oduya has been placed on the IR with a lower body injury.

And don't forget the hot and cold goalie tandem on Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen.

Whew.

But after all this, Dallas is 8-7-5 and third in the Central Division.

That, my friends, is good coaching.

Tuesday night was another prime example of Ruff pulling the right strings at the right time.

With Klingberg out of the lineup after missing a team meeting, (who also could use a night to clear his head after some poor play) heralded prospect Julius Honka made his NHL debut.

He, along with fellow rookie Esa Lindell, combined to play more than 40 minutes and had six shots on goal. Honka recorded his first point Tuesday - an assist on Brett Ritchie’s third period goal.

Honka and Lindell were paired together at times, and shockingly enough, the duo looked like they belong in the NHL. They moved the puck well, blocked shots and added offensively when they could.

Surprisingly, a defensive unit without Oduya, Johns and Kilngberg looked as good as its been since the first week of the season. Jamie Oleksiak was also a nice addition to the lineup - scoring a goal and dropping the gloves early in the game.

Offensively, Dallas has been hot and cold. Seguin has been red hot - 22 points in 20 games. However, the depth and lineup combinations developed by Ruff have been the backbone of this team.

Putting Adam Cracknell and Antoine Rousell together added toughness and a surprising scoring touch. Ritchie and Devin Shore have been solid all season with Sharp.

Even Gemel Smith was used effectively during his stint in Dallas.

While the lineup and players change, Ruff deserves credit for keeping the ship afloat during the first 20 games.

His style of play is fast paced - at times frenetic - but the past 10 games Dallas has changed his style.

The results weren’t always there, especially early as the injuries mounted.

Tuesday showed a different style of Stars hockey. They were physical. They were determined. And more importantly, the Stars played with desperation.

And that desperation comes from the urgency and decisions coming from behind the bench.

Now, 20 games in, Dallas is healthy, and don’t be surprised if Ruff’s decision lead to the Stars taking off.