The Dallas Stars must step up the defense in December to remain in the playoff mix
By Pat Hauldren
Anyone excited about the Stars playing the Predators Thursday night? Anyone?
After that embarrassing 6-2 loss to Chicago Tuesday night, I am shaking my head wondering if we have enough in the tank to finish the month of December and still keep our heads high.
Not that the Stars aren’t doing well, they are. Not that they are contenders even 7 points down, they are. And not that the Stars aren’t battling hard, they are.
Experience in our defensive zone is on the low-end, comparatively speaking. And that was what killed us against the Blackhawks.
Although some might say, no, it was because Kari Lehtonen had time off and wasn’t up to par, but I beg to differ. Kari is good, and often he’s really good, but there’s just so much that one man can do in the net and live to tell.
The Stars have a busy and challenging month ahead. This is one of those make-it-or-break-it months where the Stars either rack up some points and climb toward the top seven (if not actually in the top seven), or they slide their way into obscurity with well-meaning hat tricks and slick top-shelf shots but no wins.
Thankfully, Dallas won’t face the Blackhawks again this month. They’ll host the Stars in March in Chicago.
However, the Stars do have the Avalanche, Predators and Kings twice this month, Division rivals we need to overcome. Then there are the Sharks, always part of our West Coast tour, the Blues, always good to see Hitchcock, and the rarely paired Jets and Canucks (thanks NHL realignment).
Lindy Ruff has his work cut out for him.
Have you noticed how the Stars play better after some coaching between periods? That’s not just pep talk in there. That’s some real hard and fast Ruff-and-Ready experience talking to this young men in skates.
In the Central Division, we’re sitting on top of Nashville (at the bottom), and Winnipeg (just below us). With 33 points, add Calgary and Edmonton under those two in the Western Conference.
Positively speaking, the Stars are just three down from the top and are low in games played at 29. Positively speaking, the Stars have Alex Gologoski, Sergei Gonchar, and now Aaron Rome as experienced (and I mean NHL experienced) defensemen. The loss of Daley and Robidas has seriously depleted the list of D-men.
Not so bad, you say? Think losing Sergei Zubov, we are that screwed. OK, losing half of Zubov. Far be it from me to diss our D-men, but let’s face it, the Stars seriously need some magic hockey Hail Marys every single game.
The newbies are talented and good players, no argument there, but look at what we’re up against this month—needless to say, Ruff vs. Trotz, Ruff vs. Roy (I’m still getting used to that one), Ruff vs. Hitchcock, Ruff vs. Malone, and so on.
Thursday night’s Predator’s defense lineup doesn’t look so bad vs. the Stars, at least not on the surface. All their defensive team is under 30 years old, with Captain Shea Weber, pushing that ceiling.
Take a closer look. Weber co-leads with center Mike Fisher in goals (7g-6a-13pts) and is fifth in points (Fisher at seventh) and currently is the only defenseman to lead his team in scoring.
As the first of five matchups for the rest of the 2013-2014 season, the Stars need to quickly assess the Preds, shut down Weber and Fisher, and handle Legwand (22 points), Hornquist (16 points), Stalberg (8 points but a playmaker), Forsberg (5 points but a playmaker), and, well, the rest of the team.
The Stars have some talented kids ready to score—forwards Hat-Night-Hat-Trick Seguin (27 points, 15 goals), Jamie Benn (26 points, 7 goals), Eakin (16 points, 7 goals), Chiasson (15 points, 8 goals), Nichushkin (15 points, 4 goals), and defensemen Dillon (9 points, 4 goals), Goligoski (9 points, 1 goals), Jordie Benn (6 points, 1 goal), Gonchar (6 points, 0 goals), Connauton (1 point, 0 goals), Oleksiak (0 points, 0 goals).
Will the Stars get in the hockey holiday spirit and gift themselves some much-needed wins or will the struggling blueline leave themselves open to a December dud?