Before last night, the Dallas Stars had accomplished so far this season was surprising. I know some fans will say that they believed in the team and thought they could be successful. But even the day-dreamers and people smoking stuff still could not predict this type of start for the Stars. A 10-3 record with the hottest line in the NHL lead by Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson shredding defenses and Kari Lehtonen playing like a man worthy of a couple of awards was something to be pleased with. But then last night in Washington they might have just demolished a whole different set of expectations.
The Stars made a statement with their 5-2 win on the road against the Washington Capitals. In a contest that pitted the Stars against one of the top-tier teams in the league right now, they came away victorious and in a fashion that should have left a lasting impression with some of the hockey world. While most had recognized the Stars great start and early record, most still talked about Dallas as a lower-tier team and one that probably won’t have a successful season by April. Some wrote it off as a hot start, others put it solely on Kari, and some even said the Stars schedule was weak and they were getting lucky. No matter what they said or what they thought, most members of the “hockey world” (media members, players, fans, etc) probably still were not sold on the Stars. But in the nation’s capital the Stars again played their new style as a team and ended the night with another two points.
How did the Stars do it? How are they still doing it? There are a collection of reasons. Lehtonen’s play in the crease continues to be one of the them. He constantly has looked “locked-in” this year (except for the Avs game which was a circus) and he is able to win games all by himself some nights. The coaching staff has immediately had an effect on the team. Glen Gulutzan and his staff have turned some of the Stars past weaknesses into strengths. Under Crawford this team could not kill penalties, win close games, or protect leads. Yet this season we have witnessed the Stars effectively do it all. Even the powerplay is starting to come along. In the end though, it all comes down to the players and executing, and they have done just that. It shows on the ice that they trust each other, and believe in what they are doing. Guys like Vernon Fiddler, Sheldon Souray, Eric Nystrom, and Michael Ryder have all stepped in and showed that they were great off-season additions. The team is united, having fun together, and showing all the signs of a group that is starting to become close-knit.
In the end, what the Stars really did last night was just play another game. They went out there, played the type of game that Gully preaches, and picked up just another W in the column. In the end statistically it was not any different from any of the other ten wins. But to everyone else, the game instantly became something more. People are starting to take notice, media members are starting to talk about them, and even the pessimists are starting to believe that the team might be able to accomplish something. What amounts to another sound win on a hard roadtrip to them, has become an early message to everyone else. This team might still be the underdog. But they believe and know they can be a winner.