STARS AT MIDSEASON
Prior to the season external expectations were low to moderate for this group. They were coming off of back to back non-playoff seasons, the D were "suspect", the depth was debatable, Crawford's style of coaching had produced a lot of peaks and valleys, and the payroll was "budgetary".
Three months and 41 games later the expectations are much different. Pundits are starting to give the Stars their due. Internally, they expect to win games, and they expect to be a playoff team. "Hope" has been purged from the vocab.
The defense, when not running into each other in pre-period warmup, has been described as a group that, "doesn't win us games, but doesn't lose us any either". Kind of like a good, steady, stay at home defenseman. I'll take that.
The play of the top two lines has been marvelous and fully expected. They are the equal of any other team's top 6. On the third unit, Ott and Burish have formed a hard-edged, checking presence along with a myriad of different line mates. And, for what it is expected to do and the time it spends on the ice, the 4th liners have done their job. Joe wanted a team where roles would be defined with the top two lines providing offense and the other two focused on sandpapery, defensive play and PK and that's how this group has shaken out.
Goaltending has been a strength. That's an understatement.
Both Lehtonen and Raycroft have been terrific. Kari's health was a question mark but his back, for the most part, has held up and he has that ability that great goalies possess - to make a monster save or saves at the key junctures of the game. Andrew had to win the backup job in training camp and since then he has provided the type of netminding that the Stars used to get from their backups when the names were Turek, Turco, Fernandez and Hedberg.
Special Teams have been wildly inconsistent but seem overall to be trending in the right directions.
The team's record when scoring first (best in the league), trailing after two periods (best in the league), and in overtime (best in the league) suggests that they can win in a lot of different ways and that they have a competitive core that maybe was missing in the recent past.
Crawford seems much more like the boss this year, and a lot better focused. Last season (his first behind a bench in a few years) he seemed more of a substitute teacher. The addition of Willie Desjardins has been an immense help. Immense. His attention to detail and video work has been a big reason for the leveling of the peaks and valleys. Charley Huddy has been fabulous with that d-corp and Stu Barnes has been a valuable eye in the sky during games. In their exit interviews at the conclusion of last season the players said they wanted better attention to detail and more visual input. This staff has given them that.
All involved have better habits this year than they did last, and because of that, along with key additions in personnel and some legitimate camaraderie, this group has made winning a habit.
Joe Nieuwendyk has done a very, very good job.
One caveat: They don't hand out tickets to the post season after the 41st game.
Posted on January 6, 2011 10:23 PM Email Razor
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