Are the Stars Getting the Better of the Pacific Division, or is
the Division Getting the Better of the Stars?
Dallas is having some serious problems adjusting to their new lineup
as well as their new division. While things appear to be in control
to the casual bystander, a closer look reveals some interesting
shortcomings/flaws in Dallas' game.
Of course, owning a 7-2-2 record and sharing the league's best point
total of 16 (with the Edmonton Oilers) looks pretty good. The Stars
are undefeated at home. The power play was really cooking the first
few weeks. But, the five-on-five play was suffering. And, the team
appeared to be getting complacent as well as straying from the
hard-nosed defense- first work ethic that brought them to where
they are now.
After defeating Detroit, who is easily their top rival, 3-2, on Oct.
31, the Stars finally retired the "we can't beat the Red Wings"
stigma. This game lived up to its billing, and was played with a
playoff-type intensity. Both teams were playing their best hockey,
and it showed.
But after retiring that stigma, the Dallas players got big heads and
began believing their own hype. The team followed up this solid
victory with what could be called the worst game in franchise
history of the modern era. Dallas simply failed to show up for the
game against the Sharks in San Jose on Nov. 4. The Sharks easily
outworked the disinterested Dallas team, and skated away with a
dominating 4-0 shutout of Belfour and the Stars.
Dallas looked as bad as the Avalanche did during last year's
playoffs -- they just were not in the game, to the point of being
unbelievably ridiculous. Millionaires should just not be allowed to
coast as this team did. It was a spectacle no fan should ever have
Ed Belfour had one of his worst starts in recent memory, giving up
three goals on six San Jose shots. San Jose scored on their first
two tries, and with only nine official shots on goal all game, set
an NHL record for fewest shots by a winning team. Four goals in
nine shots. That's about as attractive to Dallas as Linda Tripp, no
matter what angle you look at her.
While everyone says the relentless Sharks crowd may have had
something to do with Belfour's performance, he and head coach Ken
Hitchcock dismissed the idea. But, Belfour definitely appeared to
have the slumping shoulders and low-hanging head of a man bothered
by the attention. Since Belfour bailed on the Sharks two years
ago, passing up more money for a chance to play in Dallas, the
Sharks fans consider the Eagle a lowlife that sold out on and
betrayed their beloved team. And, this was one of the first few
chances the Shark Tank had to really let Belfour have it. And they
did, booing him every time he touched the puck, as well as shouting
"Belfour...Belfour" and giving him a standing-O when he was given
the hook and replaced by Roman Turek in the second period.
Yep, it wasn't pretty. Beflour looked like he had more holes in him
than an old nasty sponge lying at the bottom of a bucket of
festering mop water. Even the San Jose team mascot took a shot on
Belfour during warm-ups and scored five-hole. Hey, I'm just saying
old Eddie was having a rough night, that's all. There are still
obvious doubts as to whether the Eagle is the man the Stars need to
carry them through the playoffs and have the discipline necessary
to capture the Stanley Cup. But heck, they've been saying that
about Belfour his whole career.
Hitch Shuffles the Deck
This setback put coach Hitchcock in a tizzy, and instead of hitting
the team's noses with a rolled-up newspaper, which would have done
little good, he opted instead to analyze the team's game versus the
play of their Pacific Division rivals. Hitch came up with the only
logical answer -- Dallas was not prepared properly for the hard,
physical style this division has to offer.
"This franchise for two years now has made a living on relentless
hockey, and we have gotten away from that part of our game,"
Hitchcock said. "We've talked about it, we've had meetings about
it, we've had video about it. Now we've got to get it done on the
ice. Now the formula of practice changes, and our game will come
back if the players recognize it and are willing to put a lot more
Hitchcock continued: "You simplify, and as coaches we have to become
more demanding. This is not going to happen overnight. We have to be
very determined to get our identity back. And once its back, we've
got to love keeping it. I think we look too much at the wins than how
we play. This team has to have a lot of people want that identity
back and have desperation to get that identity back."
When asked what he thought about the team's new division, Hitchcock
added, "It's no day at the beach. This is a completely different
division than the Central, and it's a different style of game. They
run after you. They've got a lot of foot speed, and they approach
the game from a very physical base. We're going to have to mentally
and physically prepare a lot differently to compete in this
And to those ends, Hitchcock completely re-shuffled all the lines,
using some sort of lottery method. While specific pairings were
kept in place, the third position on any given line was decided
nearly randomly. The goal was to balance out the scoring by
challenging the players that were forced to play on different lines
to live up to their potential.
Here's the latest lineup so far:
And so far the change has worked. Dallas scored twice at even
strength the next game against Los Angeles, got scoring from the
third and fourth lines, and won the game 3-2. It was also the
team's first road victory this season. Dallas did play a full
60-minute game with the intensity that was expected of them.
Also, the players knew things had to change, and seemed to have
taken the necessary steps to get everybody involved and on the same
"I think we're getting a little too big for our britches," winger
Brett Hull said. "What we really need is a shot of reality. There's
a fine line between being that great team and not acting it. I
think we are a great team, but if you don't act it and play it and
do it, you're just a team with good names on its jerseys."
Amen, Brett, amen. You can always count on the Golden Brett for
saying just exactly what's on his mind. Ya just gotta love that...
Indulge Me in Some Soapbox Time
So, time will tell if Dallas can adjust to the different playing
style of the new division. And what appeared initially to be a
cakewalk season for the Stars in their division by a superior team
now looks like a 50-50 chance to come out of it on top.
The parity in the league right now is nearly absolute. Notice that
there are only a few meager points separating the divisional
leaders from the bottom dwellers? The best thing that Dallas can
take away from this whole situation is that they are still on top,
and their arch-rivals Detroit are having a considerably harder time
of it, suffering through a recent three-game losing skid.
Not to mention that on paper, Dallas is still one of the league's
elite. The new second line of Hull-Nieuwendyk will probably end up
being a keeper. Hull has definitely been having trouble adjusting
to left wing with Modano. With Nieuwendyk, Hull returns to his
natural right wing position. Hull said he can now just bust up the
wing without thinking, instead of trying to read the play on the
left and make a plan ad-hoc. These two (Hull, Nieuwendyk)
definitely seem to have better chemistry than the "super line" of
Hull-Modano-Lehtinen. And, since that line essentially made the
Stars a one-line team, it was much easier to take Dallas out of the
game offensively before the roster changes.
Mark these words: Nieuwendyk and Hull are about to begin tearing up
the league with some incredible scoring. You heard it here first.
QUICK(EST) START: Center Tony Hrkac, who was scratched from
the previous three games, made a quick impact in Saturday night's
victory versus Los Angeles. He scored eight seconds after the
opening faceoff, setting the team's record for fastest goal after
the opening faceoff. Kent Nilsson had the record against Quebec on
Oct. 11, 1986. The goal was also the fastest goal allowed by the
Kings franchise. Hrkac provided the necessary grit and spark needed
to get the team involved early. Hopefully Hitchcock will give him
some due ice time.
NIEUWENDYK RECORDS 400TH CAREER GOAL: Stars' center Joe
Nieuwendyk completed a three-game point streak (3-2-5) with two
goals, including one power-play score, on Oct. 30 versus Anaheim.
His second goal of the game was the 400th of his career, making him
the 51st person in NHL history to reach the 400-goal plateau. On
Oct. 22 versus Phoenix, Nieuwendyk played in his first game of the
1998-99 season after suffering a knee injury in the first round of
last year's playoffs vs. San Jose. After surgery to repair both
knees during the off-season, he came back strong in his return,
scoring the game-winning goal and adding an assist against the
Coyotes to earn First Star of the Game honors. He then followed
that with an assist on Langenbrunner's goal on October 24th vs. San
Jose and now has five points (3-2-5) in his first four games.
Nieuwendyk has earned 19 points (11-8-19) in his last 14 games
played which includes the last nine games of the 1997-98 regular
season and his one 1998 playoff appearance.
SYDOR NAMED STARS PLAYER OF THE MONTH: Dallas Stars'
defenseman Darryl Sydor was voted the team's Player of the Month
for October by a panel of local media who cover the team. In the
Stars nine games during the first month of the season, Sydor
tallied 11 points (4-7-11), including eight power play points
(3-5-8), and had a hand in four of the team's seven game-deciding
goals (1-3-4). He comes into this game tied for first in the NHL in
defenseman points (11) and tied for 11th in the league overall in
assists (7) and tied for 12th in points (11). Named runner-up for
the NHL's Player of the Week Award after the first week of the
season, Sydor is second in the league in power-play points (8) and
is tied for third in power-play goals (3) and tied for fourth in
power-play assists (5). On ice for 12 of the Stars' 14 power-play
goals, he is first on the Stars in points (11) and assists (7), is
tied for first in goals (4) and power-play goals (3) and is second
in shots (32).
HULL NETS TWO, JUST FOUR AWAY FROM 1,000: Stars left winger
Brett Hull recorded his first multi- goal game, and second
multi-point outing, of the year on Oct. 31 versus Detroit. He
tallied the Stars' first goal of the game, then earned his first
game-winner of the year, with the team's third goal. Hull is now
tied for second on the team in points (9), assists (6) and
plus/minus (+4), is tied for third in goals (3) and is first on the
club, and sixth in the NHL, in shots (39) after collecting a
game-high eight shots against the Red Wings. Just four points away
from 1,000 career NHL points, Hull has more goals scored (524) than
any other player in the league over the last 10 years and is ranked
fifth among active goal scorers with 557 goals total. When Hull
reaches the 1,000-point milestone, he and his father Bobby will
become the first father/son combination in league history to each
record 1,000 career points.
STARS START SEASON UNBEATEN AT HOME: Through the first seven
home games of this young 1998- 99 season, the Stars have remained
unbeaten (6-0-1), outscoring opponents 20-10 in Reunion Arena.
Going back to the 1997-98 regular season, Dallas now has a 13-game
home unbeaten streak (12-0-1), having not lost at home since Mar.
28, 1998 versus San Jose. This current seven-game home unbeaten
streak to start the season is the third longest in franchise
history. In 1981-82, the Stars went unbeaten in their first nine
home games of the year (5-0-4) after opening unbeaten at home in
their first eight (7-0-1) the year before, 1980-81. The Stars tied
the second-longest home winning streak to start the season (5-0-0)
set in 1989-90 and fell one win short of equaling the team mark for
the longest home winning streak at the start of a season (6-0-0,
Now if they can just provide some balanced scoring and