Tuesday, December 21, 2010

First Place

Who would have thought that when waking up with three days till Christmas, the Dallas Stars would be in first place in the Western Conference? I know I wouldn't. I expected them to be better than last year's group; perhaps sneak in the lower end of the playoff window. Instead of backing in, the Stars are aiming to blow open the door and take this league by the throat. I feel this team can be defined by one word: Grit. It seems the majority of their games involve some form of comeback...which made tonight's game a joy to watch (and based on the crowd size, a joy to be at as well). The current three game win streak includes victories over a decent Columbus team and great Detroit and Montreal clubs. How are they doing it? With grit. Starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen misses time? No problem, our back up Andrew Raycroft can easily fill the void. Brad Richards continues to produce (currently tied for sixth in the league with 38 points). Loui Eriksson quietly has four game winning goals, and leads the club with a plus-12 rating (James Neal is only one behind). This team wont go quietly to the curb, and that grit has earned them (at least for now) the number one position in the Western Conference. They control their own destiny at this point. Keep it up.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don't Look Now...

...but the Dallas Stars are currently second in the Western Conference; a mere three points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the top seed. Sure, the season is slightly over a quarter of the way over, but considering the changes made from the prior season and the financial issues, no one could have predicted the squad being this competitive. The only drawback of this position is that the difference in points between the third place team and the team sitting at twelve is two points (the equivalent of one game). This tight grouping means positions will flex on a seemingly nightly basis; but regardless, the team is playing well. Tonight their six game win streak came to an end in a shoot-out against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but all good things must end. Expect this team to be in many close knit games since they are tenth in the league with 2.9 goals per game while sporting the ninth best goals against average of 2.6 goals per game. The MVP of this team to this point has to be Kari Lehtonen. Injuries have plagued his career to this point, but this year he's healthy and playing like an elite goaltender. Statistically he wont be winning any awards, but he's fourth in the league with thirteen wins. If there's anything the Dallas Cowboys have taught this town, it's that all that matters are W's, no matter how you get them. Brad Richards leads the team in points (30) goals (11) and assists (19) and eight players have double digit points. The season seems to have potential, but there are two big factors that will affect the outcome. 1) Will the team be sold? Not too much has come up lately about the possibility of a buyer (I still say Mark Cuban...AAC=Cuban Palace). Texas Rangers fans know what impact new ownership can have on a team; let's hope it happens sooner than later. 2) Will Richards be traded? The New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and even the LA Kings have been rumored to show interest. Trading in division doesn't seem likely, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved nothing is impossible. The Rangers seem to have the most interest, and might be willing to give up the most players in return. With Richards becoming a free agent at the end of the year and the ownership issue still at hand, it appears unlikely the Stars will be able to retain him after the year's end. Only time will tell.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Two Games In

The Dallas Stars could not have begun this season any better then they have. The story isn't just that they're 2-0; it's how they've won the two games. Last season the team finished seven points shy of the eighth spot in the playoffs. They missed out on fourteen points from overtime/shoot-out losses. Long story short, if they had converted half of those losses into wins, they could have made the playoffs. Game one against the New Jersey Devils, Dallas showed resilience, clawing back from a 2-0 and 3-2 deficit, capped off with an overtime goal by Loui Eriksson. The next night found the team playing the Islanders. This game had a much different feel to it, since tonight the Stars were in the driver seat and New York was the club that came back. A late power-play goal sent it into overtime, and after five scoreless minutes a shootout commenced. Mike Ribeiro was the only shooter to score, giving the Dallas Stars a temporary spot atop the Pacific Division. Neither of these games were won in part to defense; in fact the team is currently 20th in goals against average (3.5) and 28th in penalty kill (55.6%). Offensively though the team is finding a spark. Brenden Morrow has three goals, followed by Eriksson with two while Brad Richards and Ribeiro have three assists. Kari Lehtonen has looked solid in net; he may have given up seven goals, but he's faced 77 shots and his defense isn't helping him out. Regardless of stats, the team is winning and that's all that matters.

The next game is this Thursday against the Detroit Redwings. The Stars want to win this game not only because it's the home opener and against the former face of the franchise Mike Modano, but by winning this game they will have done something they failed to do last season: win three or more games in a row.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turning The Page

Howdy-ho Puck Heads! The preseason is drawing to an end, so let’s recap what’s happened since the last post.

Last time we chatted, the big three of Modano-Turco-Lehtinen were still on ice. So what’s the status now?

Mike Modano is now a Red Wing. Give that a moment to sink in. I think I'm at peace with this...simply because this wasn't him turning his back on the Stars. Dallas didn't want him anymore, and he wasn't ready to retire. I wish him the best, except when playing our team.

Marty Turco? He signed with the Blackhawks. I can see him fitting in here easily, but don't get the impression he's moving from a low level to a high level team...sure, Chicago will be good again this season but don't expect the same magic they bottled last season. Due to salary cap restrictions they've had to move a ton of players (hence how the Stars acquired Adam Burish).

And what's Jere Lehtinen up to? Well...I'm not really sure. I kept waiting to hear if he was retiring, signing elsewhere, or coming back...but I just haven't heard anything. I checked out his Wikipedia page and it says he's a free agent, so I guess he chose to just not do anything. NHL.com doesn't have anything listed by his name either, so for all intensive purposes, we'll just say he's in limbo.

Jonathan Cheechoo was invited to camp on a tryout basis, but didn't make the team. When I first heard about this I was stoked; I hated him as a Shark since he was so talented, but the past few years he's tapered off. I'm sure he's a great guy, but even I could look decent on a line with Morrow and Ribeiro or Richards and Neal.

The team is still owned by Tom Hicks, meaning we're constrained not only by the salary cap but also this ownership dilemma. The Texas Rangers were finally able to escape the Hicks effect, which fans saw an immediate change, such as cheaper food and beverage items and also more promotions. I miss the days of dollar bobble heads and two dollar t-shirt nights at the AAC. Guess we just have to be patient.

Enough of the off-ice issues...lets zero in on the team we have at hand.

I'm not a big fan of pre-season anything...however I did cave and go to an Avalanche-Stars game. I wont fully recap the game, so to summarize it: Sluggish play on both sides of the puck, way too many penalties taken, solid goal tending from Kari Lehtonen, and a nice comeback late sparked by an assist and goal from the captain Brenden Morrow. I feel this game can and will be a slight preview of things to come from this season. Gone are the days of solid defensive play that Dave Tippett instilled in the team and in comes the second year under Mark Crawfords offense first scheme. Despite the Stars giving up plenty of scoring chances, Kari Lehtonen has looked solid. Andrew Raycroft won the backup position, so the fate of the team will reside on their pads. My two players to watch this season are Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson. Morrow has had a solid preseason, picking up three goals and an assist. My case for Eriksson is based on something I noticed during pregame skate at the game I attended. He skated by himself with a puck, shooting it off seemingly every board in the zone to see how it bounced. I have a feeling he's going to have a monster year if he puts in that type of effort to something as minor as that.

Another interesting tidbit...the other day I saw ESPN had awarded their annual "Mr. Underrated" for the year. I clicked to see if I knew who he was...and sure enough I did. Stephane Robidas! Good to see some of our hard working guys are getting national notice. That being said, just about every analyst I've heard doesn't think the Stars will do much contending this season. I'm fine with that analysis...because this team will benefit from going under the radar. There won't be much pressure on them, and in some aspects they're better this season than last, even with losing a starting goaltender and two veteran forwards. Crawford's system will improve now that it's been used for over a full season, and this team in general has a new work ethic instilled. I'll admit they lack much of an identity, but I feel like this core of players should be able to figure it out sooner than later. It will be interesting to see how Ribeiro plays this season. His off season was plagued rumors of being traded prior to the draft, but the team is committed to him, made evident when he was captain in a preseason game that Morrow missed. Don't forget we still have Brad Richards.

All in all this should be a season to watch, and wouldn't you know, you don't have to wait too long to do so. Game one is this Friday against the New Jersey Devils.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Off-Season Notes

Howdy-ho hockey fans. I don't know about you, but all this World Cup soccer has gotten me in the mood for hockey. Despite financial issues, the Stars have made a few moves to improve the team. The only headline gaining much attention is the fact that Mike Modano will not be offered a contract by Dallas, meaning if he decides to keep playing, it will be with another team. Initially the Detroit Red Wings were the only team interested, but as of late the Sharks and Wild have joined the mix. (Keep in mind the Stars finish this next season yet again in Minnesota.) So that's the big news. Now for the lesser know acquisitions. To back up Kari Lehtonen, we now have Andrew Raycroft. Sound familiar? Probably not. He spent last year backing up Roberto Luongo, and before that bouncing around from Colorado and Toronto after breaking into the league with Boston. With a career goals against average of 2.87, .900 save percentage, and record of 103-101, he wont pose much of a threat to win the starting job but he at least provides a mediocre talent with some room for improvement. The next signing of note is Adam Burish. The Stars benefited from the Blackhawks garage sale of their Stanley Cup winning team by adding this gritty right wing. He wont win any scoring titles but his presence will be known. You almost get the feeling Dallas is putting together a scrappy team. Otherwise there have been plenty of assignments to the AHL affiliates and signings to minor deals, most of which will not see much fruition but if there's any advances you'll hear about it. No off-season is complete (except baseball) without the draft. Dallas used their first round pick (11th overall) on goaltender Jack Campbell. Initially I wasn't too thrilled with the pick considering many highly praised defenders were still in the pool, but this is what the Stars do. They find talent at the goalie position, groom them, and use them to either play or as trade bait. They finished the draft getting three defenders and a wing.

For those counting down, the regular season begins Friday, October 8th. This is Big D On Ice signing off until something happens.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Well...It's Over

The Dallas Stars finished the season going 2-1 over the last three games. The only point of note from the 2-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks was that Climie started in net. Seems like the Stars were trying him out to see if he'd be a good backup for Lehtonen next season (since its all but official that Turco won't be resigned). Now onto the emotion. Mike Modano played in what was most likely his last home game. Despite the Ducks being shorthanded personel wise, the Stars struggled to dominate, but in a way it was almost necessary to complete the story-book ending to the greatest American born players career. After an astounding ovation for Modano that I was proud to be a part of, Bobby Ryan put the Ducks up by one. Cue the Rocky theme song. Modano tipped in a shot to tie it and nearly had a game winning break-away in over-time. The shoot-out followed, which Turco stopped every shot faced and Modano and Lehtinen both scored to win it. Tears flowed from both Modano and fans alike after the game during the ceremony of players giving the jerseys off their backs to the fans. The team then went to Minnesota, winning 4-3 in another shoot-out. Modano was held off the scoreboard yet ended up as the games first star, skating out in a North Stars jersey. If Modano had any thoughts of coming back, I'd say the media and fans have forced him to retire. Now that the season is over the talk goes to "What should the team do in the off season?" Well, it all depends. If the Stars get sold there is hope for solid improvement. If they remain with Tom Hicks, then I wouldn't expect much. Keep in mind they ended the year with five more points than they did last season. Under the current management I could see them maybe getting 90 points next season, but let's not jump ahead of ourselves...after all, the playoffs haven't even started yet. Here's to next season.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Three Games Left

The Stars continue their mediocrity by losing 1-3 to the Ducks, followed by two wins against San Jose (5-1) and Edmonton (6-3), and then another loss to the Blues (1-2). Kari Lehtonen continues to figure things out, giving up eight goals in his three starts in this span. Officially eliminated from playoff contention, the team will only be playing one "meaningful" game as far as standings go on Tuesday against Chicago (they're two points behind San Jose for the best record in the Western Conference). Otherwise, we finish up the season series with the Ducks and the final game is against Minnesota, which most speculate to be Mike Modano's final game. In all honesty it would be a storybook ending since we all know he was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars so he'd be ending a great career in the same place he started. Either way it's a nice little rivalry so everyone should tune in for it. In other Stars news, Steve Ott had his first career hat trick in the San Jose game, Jamie Benn had a three point night against Edmonton, and the team had power-play goals in three of the four games. The season is almost over, so get your Dallas hockey fix while you can.