As much as this team was 3-3 in its six-game homestand, it was actually pretty dominant the whole time.
When you consider the fact Dallas outshot Nashville (30-24), Anaheim (37-26) and LA (32-24), and had long stretches of strong play in those games before hiccups caused some mental breakdowns, they really have been fantastic in the past seven games while going 4-3-0.
And when you consider just how dominating they have been in wins over Buffalo (4-0), Pittsburgh (5-2) and now Phoenix (6-3), it really is impressive.
This is as good as this team has looked since the run in the 2008 playoffs.
So where to start?
That top line is incredible. They are getting scoring chances pretty much every shift they are out there, and they are getting results because of it. Loui Eriksson had two goals and two assists on Friday and now has five goals and five assists in the past five games. Brad Richards had two goals and an assist and now has four goals and four assists in the past five games. And while James Neal has only a goal and three assists in that span, he has been a huge presence in winning puck battles and in showing he is a big part of the line's chemistry.
In Wednesday's win over Pittsburgh, Neal took a great pass from Eriksson and then made a pass to Richards for a one-timer. On Friday against Phoenix, Neal took a great pass from Eriksson off the boards, moved swiftly through the neutral zone and made a great pass to Richards for a goal in transition. On those two shifts, you see that this line needs only the smallest of space to create a scoring chance.
``They're dangerous on offense right now, largely because of their skill but also because of the chemistry involved with them. They really feel like a confident bunch right now,'' Stars coach Marc Crawford said.
Richards now has 18 points in 12 games and is plus-10. Eriksson has 16 points and is plus-13.
In addition, the second line also is playing well. Mike Ribeiro is doing a great job in his move to the half wall on the power play, and he is giving the Stars a whole new element there. He had three assists on Friday and now has 13 points in 12 games. Brenden Morrow is back to his rampaging self. He has seven goals on the season and tallied the 200th of his career Friday.
It appeared Morrow got that milestone goal early in the game with a deflection, but he told officials he never touched a Brad Richards' shot. He then got paid off late in the game when he really did redirect in a goal.
"I didn't feel it anywhere on my stick," Morrow said. "Sometimes, you get some phantom assists, but I didn't feel right about getting my 200th that way."
Marc Crawoford even took a big chance by breaking up the third line just to get veteran Krys Barch into the lineup. He sat Tom Wandell for a game and moved Steve Ott to center. He then inserted Barch in on the left wing. Barch played 10:15 and had two shots on goal.
It was a stange move, but one that Crawford believes can help the chemistry of the room. Barch is a veteran and had played in just five games before Friday.
``We felt that Barch and (Jeff) Woywitka had been working so hard for us and we want to make them a part of it,'' Crawford said. ``I thought Barch came in and played a real strong game. He had a breakaway chance. The guys appreciate how hard he has to play and the job that he has. It was more a case of we wanted to play Krys Barch than we were sending a message or anything. I'll let you know if we are sending a message to people. Tommy will come back in (Saturday against Colorado). He'll be a fresh guy for us tomorrow.''
Everything seems to be going well right now. Kari Lehtonen's stats don't always reflect it, but he is playing great right now. He gives the team a quiet confidence, and the defensemen are playing much better because of it. The penalty kill has extinguished 20-of-23 and Lehtonen is a huge part of that.
Matt Niskanen had one of the prettiest assists you will ever see as he walked around a couple of players and then hit Eriksson flying to the net for a goal late in the second period that really drove a stake through the Coyotes.
And Stephane Robidas continues to be Stephane Robidas. He played 25:34, had two assists, four hits and two blocked shots. He has quietly pushed himself up to eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) and plus-12.
It's a good time to be the Stars, as they are now 8-4-0 and looking good. The attendance was low again at 12,255, but give this some time and people will catch on. It's a very exciting brand of hockey, and the Stars currently leading the NHL in goals per game at 3.42, and that's kind of a neat thing.
"We are becoming a very good club." Crawford said. "It's always a result of how hard you work and how hard you stay within the structure of your game. When you do that, you give yourself a chance to be successful and tonight, it wasn't systems, it was our players being in the right place and making the right decisions."
And if you don't believe the Stars' new coach, what about their old coach Dave Tippett (who knows a thing or two about the organization).
"They look like they've turned the corner," Tippett told the associated press. "They have a good leadership group and they're a solid team. They've gone through a transition in the last year. The young players who had so much potential are good players and their veterans have taken leadership roles."
I always say that as much as teams can fret over winning and losing, this is first and foremost an entertainment business _ and that was a heck of an entertaining hockey game.
Stars win 5-2 over Pittsburgh with some outstanding offensive plays, and they mix in four fights, including just the fifth fight in the career of NHL superstar Sidney Crosby. Good times.
We covered the Crosby fight in a previous blog entry, so let's cover the game in this one.
First of all, Loui Eriksson really is becoming one of the better players in the NHL. He scored two goals to push his team-leading total to seven, and had an assist that may have been the best play of the game. Eriksson outbattled Penguins defenseman Zybnek Michalek (who is a very good defensive defenseman) in a physical scramble behind the Penguins net, and moved the puck out to James Neal. Neal quickly found Brad Richards in the left circle, and he one-timed in a shot for a 2-0 lead.
It was the kind of goal that showed the top line does indeed have skill, but it also has the will to force goals into the net when it needs to.
The Stars also had a great 5-on-3 penalty kill in the first period and a huge 5-on-4 kill in the second period with the score 2-1. Dallas followed the second period kill with a beautiful goal by Steve Ott off a dazzling feed from Stephane Robidas, and then Eriksson forced Alex Goligoski into a holding penalty that resulted in a penalty shot. Eriksson made some nice forehand, backhand dekes and then used the one-handed backhand move that Peter Forsberg started so many years ago.
``I actually thought about doing that move from the start. I did it in Vancouver once two years ago and it worked, and today it worked again. So it was a good one,'' Eriksson said. ``Like before the game, you can watch the camera, what the goalie does on the shootout. I got him pretty badly. I think he thought I was going to shoot it on the blocker.''
Stars coach Marc Crawford said he thought the entire first line with Eriksson, Richards and Neal was good.
``They were outstanding,'' Crawford said. ``Right from the get-go, they were strong with the puck. They were dominant. They seemed to just be enthused about the matchup, whether it was Malkin or whether it was Crosby. Those guys are great players, but we had three great players going tonight on that line.''
Just as impressive, the Stars had a chance to fold, the way they did in earlier games against Los Angeles and Anaheim, where they dominated long stretches, but couldn't score goals. But when the game became 2-1 and Pittsburgh seemed to have a ton of momentum (to the point that you could hear an audible ``Let's go Penguins'' chant from all of the Pittsburgh fans), the Stars stood up and took control of the game.
``I like that we're not allowing teams to come back in the games easily,'' Crawford said. ``We're showing a lot more poise and professionalism with the lead.
``It was another really strong outing for us,'' Crawford said. ``I do think things are going in the right direction. You build confidence when you get results. Now, the results are very positive. I thought we carried the play, generated a lot of chances. We had some superb performances from the penalty killers tonight. That was a game changer with the 5-on-3, the way Robidas and Ott and Skrastins did. It just lifted everybody on our bench. It lifted everybody in the building.''
It was just one part of a game where the Stars were aggressive offensively and hard to play against _ and isn't that what this team is seeking?
By the way, attendance was 15,637 and the numbers are trending up.
FOX Sports Southwest in conjunction with KTXA-Channel 21 in Dallas-Fort Worth today announced the following program changes for Saturday, Nov. 6:
* The Dallas Stars-Colorado Avalanche game originally scheduled on KTXA at 8:00 p.m. CT will now be shown on FOX Sports Plus.* The Stars-Avalanche game also will be joined in progress on FOX Sports Southwest in the Dallas-Fort Worth market at the conclusion of the Oklahoma-Texas A&M Big 12 football game.
* The Mavericks-Nuggets game at 8:00 p.m. CT has been moved from FOX Sports Plus to KTXA.
* KTXA has picked up the Dec. 31 Dallas Stars-Vancouver Canucks game from FOX Sports Southwest.
Please make the appropriate changes to your TV listings grids.
* FOX Sports Plus is used by FOX Sports Southwest to simultaneously show multiple events on two channels, giving viewers another option to follow their favorite teams. Saturday's Stars-Avalanche game on FOX Sports Plus will be available on the following program providers:
The Stars are currently pondering a third jersey that could debut as early next season, and the early word is that it will be green and it will have an old school NHL look. There's no word yet on whether the green is ``North Stars'' green or the more traditional Dallas forest green
The final decisions have not been made, but if the team wants to get NHL clearance for use in the 2011-12 season, it will have to present a finished sweater to the league before the end of December. One highly-place insider did mention that cows and fallopian tubes have already been ruled out.
So what do you guys want to see in a new third jersey? (Maybe they're checking in here).
The Stars ran a shootout practice after regular practice today, and one thing is sure _ Kari Lehtonen is very good.
Lehtonen's numbers are among the best all-time as his 23-8 record (.742) is arguably the best ever (Martin Brodeur is 34-18 (.654) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere is 16-5 (.762)) and his .758 save percentage ranks third among goalies with 12 or more wins (Giguere has an .805 and Marc-Andre Fleury has a .759).
Lehtonen is 6-4, and he used a very calm style to wait out shooters and foil almost all of them in the practice today.
``The big goalies, they cover so much net that they don't have to bite on stuff,'' said Brad Richards, who is 21-for-50 (42.0 percent) in his career. ``Their legs are so long that they can sit there and wait you out. You'll see a lot of guys try to make moves, but the bigger goalies don't have to do a thing. That's probably the reason he's been so good. He's pretty calm and he doesn't move much.''
Dallas last season was 29th in shooting percentage at 18.7 percent (14-for-75) which is one reason they went 7-10 in the shootout.
They are 4-for-6 this season on shots and Lehtonen has stopped 5-of-6 shots, which is one reason the Stars are 2-0 so far in shootouts.
``We saw last year how important it is,'' said Stars coach Marc Crawford, who is allowing goaltending coach Mike Valley to run shootout drills this season.
Everyone is healthy, and the lines look like they will stay the same for Wednesday's game against the Penguins.
Coach Marc Crawford said he expects Kari Lehtonen to start against the Penguins and then will split the games Friday at home against Phoenix and Saturday at Colorado between Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft.
The lines are/were:
James Neal-Brad Richards-Loui Eriksson
Brenden Morrow-Mike Ribeiro-Jamie Benn
Steve Ott-Tom Wandell-Adam Burish
Brian Sutherby-Toby Petersen-Brandon Segal
Nicklas Grossman-Stephane Robidas
Mark Fistric-Trevor Daley
Karlis Skrastins-Matt Niskanen