The Dallas Stars played their tenth game of the 2016-17 season Thursday night. Without question, the 6-2 win over the St. Louis Blues was their best game of the young season. Afterward, Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff said, “I think we built off the effort of the last two games. We got rewarded for how we played and we got a few bounces, which was nice.”
Coming on the heels of a 3-2 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets two nights earlier, in which the Stars were in control for most of the game but left Columbus disappointed, the defeat of the team which vanquished Dallas in the second round of the playoffs last spring was more than a win; it was a sign of real progress.
The victory brought the Stars’ record up to 4-4-2. That’s a far cry from last season’s 8-2-0 start, but the warning signs indicating 2016-17 wouldn’t feature another early-season cakewalk started popping up in early September.
New Faces, Old Goalies and Injuries
The past two months have been tough on Dallas forwards. As the numerous injuries and illnesses have been well-documented, there’s no need to list them here. Players and coaches alike hate using injuries as an excuse, but there’s no denying the profound impact on the Stars’ forward corps. As players fell, lines were shuffled and replacements sped up I-35 from Cedar Park. Free agent winger Lauri Korpikoski was signed after Dallas’ final preseason game.
Beyond chemistry, healthy Stars forwards had to establish a basic level of trust with the new arrivals. It’s an ongoing process. Thursday night, though, the progress was visible.
“All game we were playing how we wanted to play,” said Dallas center Tyler Seguin. “We’ve been trying to find our identity. We knew what it was last year, and there a lot of guys injured, which is no excuse, but we’re trying to figure it out. We’ve been going in the right direction the last few games…”
While Dallas forwards battled through injuries, Ruff struggled to form the best three defensive pairs from among eight blueliners on the roster. As with the forwards, it’s a work in progress.
With Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers gone, a minimum of two pairs were always going to be different from last season. In addition to establishing chemistry along the blue line, the Dallas d-corps is also developing trust with new additions Dan Hamhuis and Esa Lindell.
The only aspect of the team which hasn’t changed since last season is the one which arguably needed it most: the goaltending. Amid the chaos in front of them, the tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi has been…adequate? Uneven? Sometimes spectacular? Sometimes subpar? Valid arguments can be made for all of those descriptions. We can all agree on one point, however: Through the first 10 games of the season, they’ve been the least of the Stars’ worries.
Perhaps improbably, the Stars survived October, which should be considered a victory unto itself. St. Louis was beaten Thursday night, not by a team merely treading water, but by a team determined to move forward.
“We’ve been talking about it going in the right direction,” said Seguin. “We played much more ‘Stars Hockey’ than in Columbus, at a fast pace, everyone doing their jobs and trusting each other. It was a team effort and it’s nice to get results.”
In his post-game comments, Ruff added, “Our goal was just to get back to .500 and start over again. We’re there and we’ll have a couple of bodies coming back in the near future and that will help us.”
Fans in search of a more eloquent interpretation of Dallas’ 6-2 win over St. Louis must wonder, “What would Winston Churchill say?” For you, the highbrow hockey fan, I have the answer:
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
After a September and October to forget, the Dallas Stars are advancing, rather than retreating. The road ahead is long and treacherous, but Thursday night, the Stars finally seemed to pull themselves out of the ditch. “The end of the beginning,” indeed. Too bad Churchill never coached in the NHL; he was always a great quote.