Tomorrow the Dallas Stars will play their 41st game against division rivals, Anaheim Ducks. This season has seemed to take on polar opposites for the two teams, as the Ducks find themselves just three points ahead of league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets. However the Stars, (whom many picked to finish dead last in the division, if not the conference) find themselves not only holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot, but also sitting only three points out of the division lead, held by the “Hollywood” pick to contend for the Stanley Cup, the San Jose Sharks. So with the home stretch coming up rapidly, I thought it was time to see how the Stars have fared so far.
Jamie Benn: A. I don’t think anymore could have been asked of the young forward. With the exit of Brad Richards to free agency, Benn was to become the face of the franchise. Despite being consistently inconsistent on the score sheet, “Jedi” Jamie provided so much more than goals and assists before being named SI’s 2nd most underrated NHL player as voted on by other NHLers. He ranks fourth on the team in penalty minutes while leading the team in total scoring. Today he was named the NHL number one star of the week. So much for being underrated.
Loui Eriksson: A-. I’m willing to bet that if you asked the most underrated player as voted on by his peers, Eriksson would tell you that he expected more in way of scoring production so far this season. Pegged as the player who would suffer the most from the Richards departure, Loui has quietly been the most consistent scorer on the team, leading the team in plus/minus.
Mike Ribeiro: C+. As of late, Ribs has shown a flash when the puck is on his tape. Unfortunately, for what ever reason, he’d rather pass than shoot. At a 12.8 shooting percentage, he has one of the more consistent shots on the team. However, it’s perhaps his desire to hold a rush up to wait for numbers than to crash the net that potentially leads to turn overs. Hopefully the knee-to-knee shot he took on Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers won’t result as a serious injury and his confidence from his goal output over the last week will continue to grow.
Michael Ryder: A-. Ryder has seemed to be head coach Glen Gulutzan’s offensive catalyst, as he’s been moved back and forth between the top and second lines. Whichever line he’s played on, the other two forwards have seemed to benefit from his tenacity and “peskiness.” His shooting percentage is only behind that of Eric Nystrom’s, yet he has 34 more shots. Not only has Ryder found the back of the net more than any of his teammates with 17 goals, but four of those have gone on to be game winners. Can we say “timely?”
Brenden Morrow: C. I know, I’m going to come under fire on this one, but I have seen very little “lead by example” on the ice from the Captain. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt in regards to his scoring numbers are a result from nagging injuries, but in essence, leading the team in penalty minutes (Otter leads, but without the two 10-minute misconducts, they’d be off by one minute) is a problem, especially the type and timing of the penalties, as it seems that he takes penalties that either negate current power plays or are retaliatory. As the captain, he needs to show greater control over his emotions, especially with such a young group of players around him.
Steve Ott: B. The “President of Pesky,” Ott has seen his role greatly shaken up by the first year coach, Gulutzan, as Otter has been looked upon to be a top-6 forward and to be on the ice as such, not in the penalty box. As pointed out above, Ott does lead the team in penalty minutes, thanks in large part to two 10-minutes, but outside of that his fighting majors are down significantly, finding other ways to get under the skin of opponents. His eighteen points are formidable, but could see that increase with more time in front of the net.
Radek Dvorak, Vernon Fiddler & Eric Nystrom: B. The only reason why this explosive line isn’t graded higher is because they are a combined minus-14. However, that’s what their style of play will get you: wonderful highlight reel goals, but odd man rushes the other way if the puck doesn’t find it’s mark. The enthusiasm shown by these three is contagious, however, and you can tell the rest of the team gravitates toward their chemistry.
Adam Burish, Tom Wandell, Toby Peterson, Jake Dowell, Tomas Vincour: C+. Burish has found himself a quiet little season that has shown some explosiveness, however, due to breaking his hand last month, has missed a substantial amount of ice time. The same can be said about Vincour, who is fighting a knee injury of his own. Wandell has strung together a nice little point streak, but has rarely provided anything of significance.
Sheldon Souray: Incomplete. To start the season, Souray was by far the best player in the first month. He was tops in total scoring and led the team in plus/minus. Then he cooled off drastically, only to find himself shelved for an extensive amount of time with a foot injury. Still, with a respectable plus nine, perhaps when he returns to the lineup Gulutzan will attempt to spark a abysmal power play will pair Souray and our next subject.
Alex Goligoski: Incomplete. Also, the recipient of a substantial injury, Goose has missed a very large portion of the season, and the power play suffered greatly because of his absence. Never having played hockey at the professional level, let alone with a broken hand, I have no idea how the injury is effecting his play today. He only has ten points and is a minus-four. However, his worth is not showing on the scoring sheet, but quarterbacking the power play (which if you remember Sergei Zubov), takes a tremendous touch with one’s hands.
Stephane Robidas: B-. For the first half the season, Robidas has done what he pretty much does year in and year out. He quietly works his shift, supports his goaltender and occasionally leads a rush. As a potential captain candidate, you always know that when Robi’s skates hit the ice, you’re going to get everything he has in the tank.
Trevor Daley: A- With the exception of Tony Romo from the Dallas Cowboys, no other sports figure has garnered more criticism from me in recent years. However, this year, I went so far to write in Daley’s name on the All-Star ballot. Is he a legit all-star? No. But, I’m a homer and I want to see as many of my favorite players playing. With that being said, Daley has been an incredible surprise to me this season. Leading all Stars defensemen in scoring and plus/minus (Philip Larsen is plus-seven to Daley’s plus-six, but Larsen has only seen 19 games), Daley’s biggest contribution has been his ability to not get caught up ice like he has in years past. Thus, you’re seeing the Stars take fewer odd-man rushes the other direction.
Mark Fistric and Nik Grossman: B. Here’s a couple of guys who are not paid to score, but it would be nice to see some production from the blue line. However, I think having these two at a combined plus-five (can you tell I put a lot of stock in plus/minus) is a positive.
Adam Pardy: D. The first signing for the Stars on July 1st has been very invisible. With the exception of the game against Detroit Red Wings where a great number of his turn overs ended up behind Kari Lehtonen, he has one assist and is a minus-six. Look for Pardy to be included in any possible trade package to allow for a younger player to earn a solid roster spot.
Kari Lehtonen: A-. I think after coming out of the gates with a record of 11-3, Stars fans held their breaths for the twelve games that Lehts missed due to a groin injury. Easily the team’s MVP of the first half the season, even with the time missed. Still, Kari is 15-6 and has a brilliant 0.921 save percentage and appears to be healthy and ready for the rest of the season.
Richard Bachman: B+. He was nothing short of brilliant in his ability to step in for a struggling Andrew Raycroft when Lehtonen went down with injury. Bachs went 4-2 as the fill-in number one and since has earned a full time roster spot with the big team. He picked up the win Saturday and provides the Stars with a young netminder who can fill in if Lehtonen needs a game or two off sometimes.
Overall I would say the Dallas Stars have overachieved to this point. If you listened to the “experts” at the beginning of the season, you may have just written off the Stars as a team that left Dallas altogether. However, the team has adopted “pesky” as their rally cry. Even though there have been some bad games, such as the Blue Jackets game that should have been pure dominance by the Stars, they have surprised too. They shouldn’t have been able to hang with the Boston Bruins, but they went on to have one of their most well-rounded games all season. You may never know what team you’re going to get on a nightly basis with this group, but one thing you can bet the farm on; that this team will not quit. They will give everything they have. This team has heart, and it’s time to get on board, because the bandwagon is about to head out onto the home stretch and into the playoffs. You’ll want to be able to say you were there from the beginning.
Tags: Adam Burish Alex Goligoski Anaheim Ducks Andrew Raycroft Brad Richards Brenden Morrow Columbus Blue Jackets Dallas Stars Detroit Red Wings Glen Gulutzan Jamie Benn Kari Lehtonen Loui Eriksson Mark Fistric Michael Ryder Mike Ribeiro NHL Nicklas Grossman Philip Larsen Richard Bachman San Jose Sharks Sheldon Souray Stephane Robidas Steve Ott Tomas Vincour Vernon Fiddler