Stars Look For Renewal In Pittsburgh

#FreeSomebody, #FreeAnybody.

Healthcare and education. Pittsburgh is no longer Steel City. The last mill closed down in the mid-1980s and the city floundered for more than a decade until the city leaders finally realized that big steel wasn’t going to come back to save the day.

Instead, there was a concerted effort to redefine the city, and the resulting transformation included investments that moved the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Carnegie-Mellon University to positions of leadership in the nation, if not the world. Pittsburgh emerged from the destruction of its biggest industry into a leading position in some of the most stable tech industries.

One thing that Pittsburgh did not do was to burn it all down. A “scorched earth” policy would have left a vacuum where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet, without a plan on how to fill the void. There was some urgency, but there was structure and thought put into identifying what was needed to replace what was lost.

After a 1-6-1 start to the season, Dallas Stars fans are ready for a transformation. Hockey games aren’t won when you can’t reliably score at least three goals, let alone two. Especially when your once reliable defense and goaltenders seem to find a way to give up three. Defense can put a team in a position to win championships, but not if that team can’t put the puck in the net.

Ten percent of the season is gone and the math isn’t pretty. The margin for error is slim. A turnaround is not probable, but it is still possible.

Overreacting is not a reliable way to run anything, in spite of the recent St. Louis miracle. If this season is a slap of reality in the face of a flawed system, so be it. Maybe the players are closer to their retirement than their prime, and the operations are run by managers and coaches who are playing checkers in a chess world. But let that play out — it may work.

On ice, the Stars have gone from Lindy Ruff to Ken Hitchcock to Jim Montgomery as head coach, each with their own dramatically different system. They’ve drafted like they were pulling names out of a hat — or maybe management fell in love with the concept of bigger and fast, not realizing that Roope Hintz is the only human being who can actually pull it off.

So, let this season go. If things turn around, fans will remember the Stars’ miracle. Along the way, don’t tarnish your prospects with the stink.

If things don’t turn around, figure out how hockey needs to be played in Dallas. Make a real, organization-wide plan. This is something that is above Jim Montgomery’s pay grade. It’s beyond GM Jim Nill. This is C-Suite and owner “horses**t” and it goes straight to the heart of a “culture of mediocrity.”

Organizations that don’t have a clear vision of their goals and how to get there flounder. The Dallas Stars are flopping around on the deck wondering how they got out of the water.

Of course, there is still a hockey game to be played. Pittsburgh also finds themselves with aging superstars, but with a handful of Stanley Cup rings to go with them. Yet, the Penguins are off to a 5-2-0 start to what was supposed to be a transition year for the team.

Sidney Crosby is still in the conversation for top of the league in offensive talent. Pittsburgh has scored seven goals three times this year, and their only losses came when they scored one goal. They are averaging more than four goals per game, and those goals are coming from all four lines. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Injuries have been an issue for the Penguins, most notably with Evgeni Malkin out for a month with a leg injury. In fact, the entire projected second line is out of action, turning the fourth line into a trio of AHL call-ups.

Pittsburgh’s defense has been surprisingly good, with Kris Letang and Justin Schultz leading the first and second pairs. The left side may be the Penguin’s weakness, Marcus Pettersson finding himself moved to the second pairing and Jack Johnson playing on the third pair. How Jamie Oleksiak worked his way out of a starting role on the Penguins’ left side should be a serious question.

In net, Matt Murray has taken six of the seven starts, and remains a solid backstop. Tristan Jarry is the reliably mediocre backup.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jason Dickinson (18) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Jamie Benn (14) - Roope Hintz (24) - Corey Perry (10)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Radek Faksa (12) -Joe Pavelski (16)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Justin Dowling (37) - Denis Gurianov (34)

Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Taylor Fedun (42)

Anton Khudobin (35)

Pittsburgh Penguins Lineup

Jake Guentzel (59) - Sidney Crosby (87) - Dominik Simon (12)
Dominik Kahun (24) - Jared McCann (19) - Patric Hornqvist (72)
Zach Aston-Reese (46) - Teddy Blueger (53) - Brandon Tanev (13)
Adam Johnson (47) - Joseph Blandisi (36) - Sam Lafferty (37)

Brian Dumoulin (8) - Kris Letang (58)
Marcus Pettersson (28) - Justin Schultz (4)
Jack Johnson (3) - John Marino (6)

Matt Murray (30)

Keys to the Game

For the first time in a while, the Stars may not be the slowest team on the ice. Roope Hintz, and especially Denis Gurianov on the right wing, should exploit their speed advantage.

John Klingberg. Much has been said about Klingberg’s slow start. Pittsburgh could be susceptible to his puck handling and shooting from the blue line.

First goal. Get a lead. Keep a lead.

Did You Know?

The Stars’ start this season is all part of the plan to weed out fair-weather fans prior to an extended Cup run.

Also, Texas Stars take on the Grand Rapids Griffins at 7:00 p.m. CT. Just sayin’.