After already playing two undefeated teams this week, the Stars hit the road this weekend for two more tough tests. They’ll take on the Los Angeles Kings Saturday night and then play in Anaheim against the Ducks on Sunday.
“It seems like there are no more easy games in this league any more. There are no nights off,” said Stars forward Shawn Horcoff. “When I first started there were three or four teams where there was a lot of separation. Now, there is so much parity that there is just not an easy game. Now with the systems everyone plays, there is a lot of backchecking, everyone works hard. With Los Angeles and Anaheim, you’ve got two bigger and physical teams and it’s going to be a good test for us again.”
The Stars head to California after seeing positive steps against two teams that started the season on impressive rolls. They played well in Denver Tuesday night, outshooting the then unbeaten Colorado Avalanche 41-26 in a 3-2 loss where mistakes cost them points.
On Thursday, they took on the San Jose Sharks, the NHL’s hottest team, at American Airlines Center. The Stars outshot the Sharks through regulation and then prevailed in a shootout, handing the Sharks their first loss of the season.
“I thought the speed game, we came at them hard. Our defense got involved,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I thought the speed of our team backed them off.”
“There’s still room for growth and improvement, but the way we’ve played the last two games guys are feeling good,” said Stars center Cody Eakin. “We’ve been playing fast and making it hard on the other teams.”
Call it the first steps in finding their identity as a team.
“There are certain things we are starting to figure out what we need to do to be successful,” said Horcoff. “It’s still a process. It’s only been six games and we’ve still got a ways to go, but I think we’re starting to figure out an identity.”
And figuring it out isn’t a matter of flipping a switch. It can take some time, especially when you consider all the changes the Stars went through in the offseason as far as player personnel, the coaching staff and the front office.
“Any time you go through a lot of changes it takes you a little while to figure out what you are as a team,” said goaltender Dan Ellis. “I think we’ve started to find that out. Against Colorado we made some real positive strides and then (Thursday) night against a team that is undefeated, you outshoot them pretty much, outplay them in a lot of the areas of the rink and you end up with a big win. I think we are starting to find the way we play, and it’s an exciting brand of hockey. It’s one that gives us success.”
And the hope is they’ll build on that success this weekend in California. It won’t be easy. The Kings are still one of the better teams in the league. They are 5-3-0, a solid record for a team that has played six of the first eight games on the road. The nucleus of the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and went to the Western Conference Finals last season is still in place. The Ducks are off to a great start as well. They are 6-1-0 on the season and 4-0-0 at home. They ran their winning streak to six games with a 3-2 shootout victory over Phoenix Friday night.
“Every game is tough. It seems you go into it and think the next game might be a bit easier, but you play another undefeated team,” said Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon. “We know these two well. There are a lot of good players, they are big teams, they push the puck and they are both off to really good starts. They are going to be two tough tests for us for sure.”
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