When Lindy Ruff was hired as the Stars head coach this past off season, the first question to come to everyone’s mind was, “What style of play will this team focus on?” After all, Brenden Dillon was coming off a fantastic rookie season and of course, there was the blockbuster trade on the 4th of July that brought Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Stars from Boston. So, which direction was Dallas going to go in terms of style of play? Was Ruff going to focus on skill and speed with Seguin being paired up with Jamie Benn, or was Dallas going to be feared with Dillon and Jamie Oleksiak ready to make the jump to join his former Texas Stars teammate?
Ruff chose speed over physicality and the team is a 14-10-5 and currently sit 10th in the Western Conference. They trail their division rivals, Colorado Avalanche by 7 points for the 8th and final playoff spot. If the season were to end today, half of the top-8 would consist of the new Central Division (Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota and Colorado). These are teams that are built on speed and just bottom line, beat their opponents to loose pucks, so it’s fitting that the Stars would try to emulate what their rivals are doing successfully.
The problem with that mindset is this team is not talented, nor is it fast enough to skate with the top teams in the Western Conference. A perfect example of this is special teams. Sitting dead last in the league with the man advantage, even to the most novice hockey observer, it’s apparent that speed and skill are key components to having a successful power play. On the flip side of things, Stars sit just below middle of the pack at 17th when down a man. The penalty kill, most would think would that physical play would be required to try and negate the extra skater by putting him on his rear end.
Dallas currently is 21st in the league with 11.9 penalty minutes a game. In most instances, that would be a positive but not for this team. Not for the way this team has been put together. Before being lost for the season (for all intents and purposes), Stephane Robidas is undoubtedly one of the toughest SOBs in the league. However, since his injury, the Stars are most likely seeing the start of the Jamie Oleksiak era. The Big Rig was taken first overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and currently stands 6’7” and weighs 250 pounds. He, together with Dillon who himself stands 6’3”, 225 pounds. When, as a team, you can send out nearly 13 feet and 500 pounds of defensemen on one shift, you don’t need to be a team of speed; you need to be a team of pain. You need to be a team of fear. No one fears Dallas, nor should they.
Stars left wing, Antoine Roussel is 3rd in the league in penalty minutes and though may not be near the top in league scoring, is always a noticeable force when out on the ice. He can make some slick moves and bury a shot (shooting percentage of 18.9%), but he’ll also put someone in the 3rd row and most importantly, will drop the mitts and pound someone’s face for 5 minutes if needed. Roussel is the warrior this team desperately needs. He’s their only warrior.
Yes, there’s the saying of, “You can’t hit what you can’t catch.” There’s also the time Derrian Hatcher did this to Jeremy Roenick following a game in Phoenix where the Coyotes took a run at Mike Modano. To my fuzzy memory…I don’t recall Modano ever taking a cheap shot again in his career.
The Stars play timid. A prime example is the contrast between the current and most recent captain. Late in his career with Dallas, Brenden Morrow took some insanely stupid penalties, but overall, he got dirty and he wasn’t going to let the opponent set up camp in his crease. The current captain used to be like that. Benn used to play with a damn near nastiness to his game but this year, despite being 6th on the team in PIM, he has 17 total minutes, including one major. Jamie used to do this:
“Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.” Herb Brooks used this to describe his Olympic hockey team in 1980. He was right. Even though the USA went on to beat the greatest teams on the planet en route to Olympic gold, they were nowhere near the “better team.” The Stars are trying to be a team built on speed, and it has worked in their favor on several occasions. But they don’t have “enough speed to win on speed alone.” They can’t expect Kari Lehtonen to stop 50+ shots a night and win. They have to make teams earn the blueline. Far too often do teams actually carry the puck over the Stars line and set up shop. Contrastingly, the Stars are often forced to dump the puck into their opponent’s end and go chasing. Teams don’t fear the Stars and that allows for their speed to take over games and momentum. You very rarely can disrupt a fast team with speed of your own. You have to put a few of their players into the bench or through a pane of glass. Only then, will they start dumping pucks and skating East-West as opposed to barreling through the defense and planting a guy right in Lehtonen’s lap.
The Stars used to be pesky.