Let's do some hockey scattershooting on a Thursday morning:
* It is very nice to see the Stars shake out of a bit of a funk with the two road performances in St Louis and Chicago. The Chicago win in particular demonstrated the ability to remain composed and play "your game" as opposed to becoming unraveled after the Stars conceded their 2 goal lead in a very unfortunate 90 seconds of hockey around the midway point of the game. Dallas is doing a better and better job on the road of withstanding the onslaught of the 3rd period push by the home team. I am not saying it is Hatcher and Matvichuk, Sydor and Zubov back there, but the way the defense looks composed seems to be a drastic improvement over the 2009-10 Dallas Stars who had such trouble winning games in tight spaces last year. And to think, that is now the 6th straight road win (San Jose, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville, St Louis, and Chicago) after this team could never win 3 straight games last season show we are seeing some real nice progress around here. They hit a bit of a slump on home ice - or maybe it is called playing two really good teams when those teams clicked when Detroit and Vancouver rolled in and pasted the Stars by a combined 11-4 - but this play on the road has real playoff applications and should make the confidence grow on a team that is now at the half way point of the season. Goaltending and special teams change everything.
* And maybe that is why Joe Nieuwendyk made the choice last summer that if the "special" goaltender is on the board with the Stars made the 11th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft. Jack Campbell, the US Goalie in this week's World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, excelled for the 2nd year in a row at the top under 20 tournament on the planet. Joe and his brain-trust consider Campbell a special goaltender to be in the NHL and that is why they made me fall off my couch when they passed on Cam Fowler last June. Fowler, was then taken with the next pick by the Anaheim Ducks, and already plays every night in a number of situations on that Ducks blue-line. I am guilty of wondering if the right decision was made there, partly because Fowler is already in the big leagues and doing great at a Stars "position of need", but this past week the Stars have had a great example of their logic on full display. The Junior tournament is another reason why the NHL Network has really helped the hockey buffs (like me) in the US to broaden our hockey brains. Watching these games is well beyond our means of a decade ago, and now we can wonder if Scott Glennie over Ryan Ellis (Nashville) and Jared Cowen (Ottawa) in 2009 was a good call or Jack Campbell over Ryan Fowler in 2010. In the past, we would just assume that we won't know for years. And we won't truly know for year. But 2nd guessing the GM is a past-time in every sport, so I certainly hope that Joe and his staff nailed their 1st two 1st Round selections in 2009 and 2010.
* There was a time a few weeks ago when the leading goal scorers from the Stars were: Brad Richards, Loui Erikkson, and James Neal at the top. A glance this morning shows that a guy has come out of nowhere, and now has worked his way past #2 and #3 on that list and sits 1 goal behind the leader, Richards, for the team lead. What a rally for Brenden Morrow! He has 8 goals in 11 games since Dec 13 - the night he took a puck in the nose and broke his face in San Jose. He came back into that game - like a captain does - and scored that night. Since then, with a full shield covering his face, he has gone on an absolute tear and is about to take over the team lead in goals. He has 17 and given that his career high is 32, it seems everything is in play. What a shot in the arm that is, because not long ago, we were asking when the 2nd line was going to help with the heavy lifting that 91-18-21 constantly supply. Now, 63-10-14 seems back on the right track and the Stars are back to looking the part as a potential Pacific division champion. People are quick to sleep on quiet and consistent leaders in this city, but let's not forget everything that Morrow does for this team.
* Thank you, HBO, for doing an amazing job of showing everyone the sport we love. Their 24/7 Pens-Caps series that finished its 4th and final episode on Wednesday Night highlighting the Winter Classic and the month leading up to it was nothing short of awesome. I am serious. From a marketing standpoint, there is no better way to show people the NHL than to actually have access to everything and show them what goes on behind the curtains with no filters whatsoever. It may not be a great thing to show your children (Ear Muffs!) but it is something to show that person who never quite understood what you saw in hockey. This is not only the best the NHL has ever had, but I think it is superior to anything HBO has ever done in this genre (or NFL Films or you name it). I applaud the NHL for not filtering the show - they showed a few things that league's might normally not want out there - because the final product was great for hockey. Come back anytime! And if you haven't seen it yet, I strongly recommend it.
* Hey look what the schedule says! Friday Night, the New York Rangers are coming to town. And some guy named Sean Avery. It seems like an eternity ago that the train wreck known as the Avery signing occurred, culminating in that odd evening in Calgary, but I would imagine a guy or two on the Stars bench remembers. I find myself quite excited about getting to the rink on Friday night. There is not telling if a fireworks show will be there, too. But, I won't miss it if there is one. I'll see you there.