Back again for another bag of pucks where the Stars haven't lost since the night before the Super Bowl. If that continues, the Stars are going to be really good this year.
Seriously, there is no denying how much better the Stars look to the naked eye since they have had Derek Roy and Jamie Benn both present in their lineups on the same night. Now, that has only been 3 games in 12, mind you, but the Stars have won all 3 of those games (the latest 3) and the power of two legitimate offensive centers reminds us of days gone by when Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro or Mike Modano walked the halls in Frisco.
This is clearly the design behind the trades made last summer - to move a Ribeiro out who they thought was no longer a viable option and to bring Roy in despite the contract risks that come with it. They are ready to set sail with Jamie Benn being a #1 who will play heavy minutes in every scenario and has responded by looking like the best player on the ice more often than not lately.
Meanwhile, Roy has a strong 2-way game that includes a steady forecheck, the ability to win a ton of face-offs, and most importantly, to make some sense of a power play that seldom has made sense in the last few years - especially since Richards has moved to New York.
The big questions with Roy are certainly going to persist until he puts them to rest. His contract is a scary prospect for all involved and the Stars need to make sure this gets done. But, more importantly, he needs to demonstrate that the last 2 years that were destroyed by injuries and lack of production were merely a blip on the radar. He looks to have great quality, but obviously, that is all based on availability which is based on durability.
But, in those 3 games together, the Stars have put up their 3 most productive nights from a shots on goal perspective. Shots on goal don' t mean everything, but when you have been out-shot in 11 of the 12 games, you certainly recognize that it can lead you down some roads that you don't wish to visit. In 3 of the first 4 games this season, the Stars conceded 40 shots, suggesting that they seldom had possession of the puck and were taking penalties at a very high rate because they were chasing all night long.
They still take too many penalties, but in the last 3 games with Roy and Benn together, they have enjoyed an advantage in power play opportunities, 13-12, and have even won the faceoff battle in the last 2 games. Faceoffs are related to possession, as possession is related to power play chances and shots on goal. But, having 2 centers up top and 2 more centers down below in Cody Eakin and Vern Fiddler who can handle their business quite capably shows that the vision that the Stars front office had last summer does make sense in reality.
GOLOGOSKI AND THE HEALTHY SCRATCH
There was certainly plenty of buzz last week when the Stars decided to give Alex Goligoski a chance to watch the game in the press box in Edmonton rather than playing the most minutes on the roster as he often does.
This has been a tough transition for Goligoski to handle, where he went from the nurturing atmosphere in Pittsburgh where he was surrounded by some of the most gifted players in the world to a place in Dallas where not only is he being asked to be their best defenseman, but also being asked by local journalists to simply be the next Sergei Zubov. Seriously, let's just ask him to be Bobby Orr while we are at it.
There are no more Zubov-types riding in to save this thing, but still, both parties decided that this contract was a great idea rather than letting him get to free agency last summer. The Stars had no other choices as their minor leagues had not supplied cheap puck carriers that were ready, so they invested heavily in a player that appeared to have traits to be a PP savior but had never quite done it. They were investing in "upside" and may have missed the target by early returns.
I have written plenty on this topic and I do believe that no trade gets explained more improperly than the James Neal trade. That being said, the contract is binding, and the Stars have to do the best they can to get the most of Alex, and perhaps a healthy scratch had a profound effect on the player. Especially since it happened in Edmonton, where the hockey media certainly made a note of it that might have been lost if it was in Phoenix.
But, more than anything, I like the idea of the Stars trying a very seldom used tactic around here, and that is direct and public treatment of a veteran millionaire that is appearing to underperform. The healthy scratch is not something that happens in other sports, but in the NHL, it is a weapon that can be used. A player is not promised a spot in the lineup every night, but veterans generally just have to stay healthy and it is theirs.
The Stars have almost never used this for vets - especially in the post Bob Gainey/Ken Hitchcock era when Donald Audette was famously scratched in early October 2001 after signing here that summer. Since then, there have been a few, including Mike Ribeiro, but that was punishment for missing a meeting, not for underperforming.
With Ribeiro and others recently including Steve Ott, there seemed to be a disconnect between what the management team wanted him to do and what he would actually do on the ice. They would talk about issues, but the coaching points would sometimes not be properly followed. When that happened, there always seemed to be a sigh of resignation rather than escalating the situation with a heavier hand of punishment. If they would have scratched a player who is not accepting coaching points, perhaps they would be happier with the development of the player. Instead, they seemed to avoid confrontation and ultimately try to trade the player on to a new place for a new player that would be more coachable. I think this is a bit wasteful with resources sometimes.
Since Gainey and Hitchcock exited, it has always seemed that the Stars have tried to avoid head-on confrontation with players, opting for the occasional tough word, but usually taking the more travelled road of "treating them like men" and being player-friendly.
But, sometimes, there is a place for Bill Parcells or Bob Knight and the school of direct punishment. Players live very comfy lives where money is everywhere and admonishment is not. I am not saying Goligoski requires any sort of this, but I am saying that surely in 11 seasons since Audette was humiliated, there was call for a player to be called out with by taking the only currency they understand - playing time.
Is it a country club sometimes? I don't believe so, but if players are not complying or buying in at the level you need, then sometimes this should happen. Sometimes, you can get the player's attention and other times, the whole roster sits up straight and realizes that everyone can do more. I admire the Stars trying this and making sure everyone knows that nobody has their spot given, it must be earned.
And don't misunderstand it. Buffalo also scratched their golden boy on the blue-line, 23-year old Tyler Myers on Saturday after writing him a 7 year/$38.5m deal this past summer and are paying him $12 million this season alone. It doesn't mean they don't like him anymore nor does it mean they regret the contract.
It just means they want him to do what he can do to fix things.
And that is all the Stars are asking of Goligoski.
GOAL OF THE WEEK:
Check out the fine work of long-time Blue Jacket, present-day Blue Shirt Rick Nash driving hard to the net from the right wing for a beauty against Tampa Bay:
FIGHT OF THE WEEK:
Here is a matchup between two heavyweights that go back to two previous dust-ups in 2005, when John Erskine was a promising young defenseman for the Stars and George Parros was playing for the Kings. Since then, they have found new homes but they still enjoy punching eachother. I think everyone can agree that big Erskine gets the win here:
Now, the Stars head back to Western Canada for a tough trip that includes Edmonton tonight, Calgary on Wednesday, Vancouver on Friday, and then back to Dallas for Calgary again on Sunday and Vancouver next Wednesday.
As you can see, there are no easy stretches in this 48 game sprint where the season is already 25% done.