On the Radar: Team Effort
Back in training camp, first-year Dallas Stars Head Coach, Lindy Ruff, introduced a slogan for the 2013-2014 season. It has since evolved from a catchy saying into a team philosophy. Throughout the year it has been repeated by players, coaches, and fans alike. In the Stars locker room, a sign containing the motto hangs over the stalls, so it’s one of the last things each player sees before they hit the ice. The slogan is simply four words, but it has become the identity of this team.
“Everybody Ropes, Everybody Rides.”
Ruff’s message was clear from day one. Everyone who put on a Stars jersey had to be engaged, and committed to helping the team succeed. Sometimes it meant playing out of position. Think of how many times Ruff has moved a center to wing, or asked a winger to play on his off side. Look at how many times has he shuffled the lines, or how he’s managed having six left-handed defensemen for most of the season. Sometimes it meant needing players to come up from the minors to fill a gap caused by injury. There are countless examples throughout the year, and the Stars added one to the list on Tuesday as defensemen Patrik Nemeth made his NHL debut on Tuesday. Sometimes it meant leaning on guys more than they’ve experienced in their career. Defensemen like Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Jordie Benn, and Brenden Dillon have all played more than 23 minutes a game as of late. At times they’ve even flirted with 30. Sometimes it meant asking star forwards to refine their defensive game, and even kill penalties. Jamie Benn has been key in this department all season long.
When asked in the first month of the season what he expects from his players on the ice when the other team is crowding and taking liberties with his goaltender and tempers begin to flare, Ruff answered, “Everybody Ropes, Everybody Rides.” Sometimes it meant physically. Sometimes it meant emotionally. And sometimes it meant offensively. Whatever the situation, the Stars all had to pull their weight, and pull it in the same direction.
With the fate of the season hanging in the balance, this past week embodied that philosophy, perhaps more than any other this year. The Stars went 3-0, and contributions were found from everyone who played. This team that had pined for an increase in secondary scoring since the start of the season, found it in spades. In the three wins, the Stars scored an impressive 16 goals. However, more impressive is that they came from 11 different players. Over the trio of games, the Stars dressed a total of 19 skaters, and 16 – including all 12 forwards – registered points.
It’s also worth noting that the Stars had this scoring outburst amidst the lingering absence of Erik Cole, who entered last week as the club’s third-leading goal scorer. Everybody Ropes, Everybody Rides, right?
It was a milestone week for many players. On Friday, Goligoski recorded a career-high, four assists. He and defensive partner, Daley, both finished the game with a +5 rating. On Saturday, rookie Colton Sceviour had his first NHL two-goal game. On Tuesday, Alex Chiasson chipped in a career-best, three assists. That same night Dustin Jeffrey scored his first goal as a member of the Stars, and added another for his third-career, two-goal game in the NHL.
There is no denying that the Stars offense this season has been led by Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. That pair has been at the center of the majority of the Stars biggest wins, top highlights, and most impressive performances. They both have practically doubled the goal scoring output of anyone else on the roster. But the Stars are at their best when they get contributions from additional lines, and all four lines were clicking last week. At one point the Stars scored 13 straight goals from players other than Benn or Seguin. However, let’s not completely gloss over the production from the Stars leading scorers. They combined for the first, and eventual game-winning, goal on Tuesday and each had points in two of the three games last week. Seguin has points in 12 of the last 13 games, and Benn has points in 14 of the last 18. They will continue to get their points. It’s just a whole lot easier to win when they’ve got company.
And while we’re mentioning praise for the usual suspects, Kari Lehtonen’s play cannot be overlooked either. Scoring 16 goals over three games is outstanding, but so is allowing just 5 over that same span. Check out the bullet point below for more on Kari, but he deserves as much praise as the offense for his role in the three-game sweep.
The Stars reached new ground last week. It was the first time all season that they scored four or more goals in three consecutive games. The win on Tuesday lifted them to 10-games over .500 for the first time this season. On Saturday, Dallas became the first team to beat St. Louis in regulation, on their home ice, since they acquired Ryan Miller. The Stars earned their first win in an Eastern Conference building since the opening week of November. They matched a season-long winning streak of three games. Overall the week rivaled their best of the season. And it came at the perfect time. It also came as the result of a total team effort.
The Stars are 40 percent through a potentially season-defining road trip, and have been perfect thus far. They enter this week as the current occupiers of the final playoff spot with a game in hand. They have eleven days and seven games left in the regular season. The upcoming week contains over half of those remaining games. If they all keep buying into the team philosophy, and play the way they did last week, the Stars very well might find themselves roping and riding all the way to the playoffs.
This week the Stars finish up the Eastern Conference road trip, and then return home to prepare for the final week of the season. Here are some things to keep ‘On the Radar’ in the upcoming schedule:
As Goligoski Goes, So Go the Stars
Stars defenseman, Alex Goligoski set a career-high for assists-in-a-season last week with 33. He had a terrific three games, tallying five assists and finishing a +9. Goligoski starts this week ranked in the top-20 in NHL scoring by defensemen, and is tied for 13th in assists. He has been on a torrid pace after registering just a single point in October, and only six points through his first 24 games of the season. Dating back to December 3, Goligoski has 32 points in 50 games – an average of .64 points per game. That averaged would rank him 11th among NHL defensemen stretched over the entire season. Over the last seven games, his play could be pivotal to the Stars success. This year in Dallas wins, Goligoski has 27 points and is a +40 in 36 games. In 38 regulation and OT/shootout losses combined, the Stars blue-liner has just 11 points and is a -35.
Goligoski is just two points shy of his first 40-point campaign with Dallas. The Stars have only had one 40-point season from a defenseman since 2006-2007. That came in 2009-2010 when Stephane Robidas put up 41 points.
Once again the Stars will have a chance to hit a season-long winning streak if they can claim a victory in their first game of this week. The Stars will ride a three-game streak into Carolina on Thursday, hoping to make it four in a row for the first time this season. This is the Stars fifth three-game winning streak this season, but they’ve been stopped at this point each of the prior four times. Their last opportunity slipped away in a 4-3 shootout loss to Calgary on March 14. Dallas squandered a two-goal lead at home, with just over seven minutes to play in regulation to suffer the defeat. That loss began a four-game winless skid, which the Stars have since turned out of nicely. On their current winning streak, Dallas has never trailed and has scored the first two goals in each game thus far. The Hurricanes are all but out of playoff contention, but are still playing good hockey. They have points in four straight games (2-0-2), and are coming off a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The Stars dominated the first meeting of the season against Carolina in the first game back from the Olympic Break. Dallas scored twice in the game’s first seven minutes, and Jamie Benn led the way to a 4-1 win with a goal and two assists.
Closing the Door
Kari Lehtonen followed up an exceptional performance two weeks ago with almost mirrored numbers last week. Two weeks ago Lehtonen only allowed five goals, stopping 96 of 101 shots against. Last week he once again allowed just five goals in three games, stopping 93 of 98 shots he faced. His consistent play has been the backbone of the Stars success as of late. He has led Dallas to a 5-1 record over the last six games, and nabbed his fourth shutout of the season on Tuesday, tying a career high. The 35 saves he made against the Capitals were the most in any shutout performance this season. His 2.43 GAA and .919 save percentage are on pace to be the second-best, single-season numbers of his career, Lehtonen’s victory at Washington gave him a 30-win campaign for the third time in the last three, full NHL seasons. He currently ranks third among NHL goaltenders in minutes played this season, and is expected to handle the majority of the final seven games remaining.
Run, Run, Ryan
Earlier this season the Stars signed free agent-to-be Ryan Garbutt to a three-year contract extension. Garbutt has responded by posting career numbers this season, shattering his previous totals. Entering this year Garbutt had scored 5 goals and tallied 13 points in 56 combined NHL games over the last two years. This season the Winnipeg, Manitoba native has shot off the charts with 16 goals and 29 points in 68 games. He has achieved these numbers with an average of just 13 minutes of ice time per game, and no time on the power play. Garbutt, who played in the CHL, ECHL, and AHL before arriving in Dallas, is just six goals shy from the most goals he has ever scored at any level since junior hockey. Not previously counted on to be amongst the team’s leading scorers, he starts this week tied with Cody Eakin and Erik Cole for third on the team in goals. He has scored in three of the last four games, with four goals over that span. His line, along with Eakin and Antoine Roussel has been the second-most productive line for the Stars this season.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.