Turn and Burn
There was a very important game played in Detroit recently. The
two-time champ Red Wings were beaten - solidly - by a team that
had until very recently suffered a major lack of confidence when it
came to playing Detroit. The date was Dec. 18, and the opponent was
none other than the Dallas Stars. The final score was 3-1, in
The reason why it was so important was that it very well might have
been a preview of the Western Conference finals, only this time the
story has a better ending for Dallas. It was the third straight
time this season Dallas had beaten Detroit, and it was the second
time at Joe Louis Arena. Anyone familiar with modern hockey can
tell you that The Joe is one tough place to come away with two
points from, unless your jersey happens to be red and white.
The fact that the Stars can now beat Detroit consistently, while
demonstrating a considerable amount of confidence, can only mean
that Dallas has FINALLY turned the corner. They are the heir
apparent. Sorry to those that may not agree, but Dallas is
definitely now one of the favorites to take the cup this year. Deal
Gut Check is Passed
All the questions of Dallas' early season inconsistency have been
answered, and the Stars are just now hitting that optimal rhythm,
cranking out one tenacious win after the other. But, it took one
serious gut check by the entire team to get back on track. It was a
gut check some were doubtful they could pull off.
Good things have happened since the 4-1 loss to Vancouver on 12/4.
The next game, a 6-2 win over Edmonton, could be considered an
aberration since the Stars got to the Oilers goaltender early, and
chased him out of the net. But, the 3- 2 win over Calgary on 12/7
marked one of the first true turnaround games for Dallas.
The Flames had taken the early 1-0 lead, and had the Stars looking a
little slow and disinterested at first. It could have been one of
those games that ended up being a 2-1 loss for Dallas, one where
their lack of a full 60-minute effort was brought up.
But then the explosion came. Calgary took four penalties in the
first period, the last one carried over to the start of the second.
This penalty was a definite change in momentum, in Dallas favor,
and opened up what would be a three-goal explosion for the Stars in
the second period.
Mike Modano scored the first goal on the power play barely two
minutes into the period, deftly converting a great hard- work pass
from Mike Keane, after Keane received a beautiful outlet pass from
defenseman Richard Matvichuk. Brian Skrudland was the benefactor of
an ugly goal midway through the period, one courtesy of the
tenacity and forecheck of the Skrudland-Carbonneau-Reid line.
But the play that really got things going, and the same one that
seemed to really turn the confidence of the Stars around, was the
third goal, which was scored by Sergei Zubov. The fact that Zubov
scored the goal by barely beating the buzzer on the LAST SECOND of
the period was almost a non-issue. What really got to the Flames
was that it was the result of a frustrating penalty Calgary felt
was too severe.
Mike Modano was high-sticked by Valeri Bure and left the ice for
what looked like a broken nose, complete with teary eyes and
swollen face. The initial assessment was a penalty shot, since
Modano was taken off of a sure breakaway.
Modano was in the dressing room for treatment, and had to be called
out to take the penalty shot. This was the first penalty shot of
Mighty Mo's career. Modano consulted the bench for the book on the
Flames goalie- and the decision was to go five-hole. So, Mo took
the puck at center ice, skated in tentatively, made a slight
shoulder fake, and then lamely tried to stuff it five-hole. The
goalie was all over it - Modano missed the shot.
As a dejected Modano was skating to the bench cursing himself,
everyone began looking up at the scoreboard and pointing - there
was STILL a four-minute penalty showing up against the Flames!
Whatever the weird-ass rules were, because Modano missed the
penalty shot, the initial penalty that was to be assessed to
Calgary stood up. And because it involved bloodshed, it was an
automatic four minutes.
Despite their protests, the Flames did not get the penalty reversed,
and the back-breaking third goal was the result. The Flames did post
a token second goal in the third period, but by then the Stars had
soundly shut down any Flames comeback. Dallas won the game 3-2.
The next three games saw the Stars continue in their winning ways,
coming up with two ties and a win. The two ties were significant
because during both games Dallas was forced to play catch-up
hockey, and did so very well.
The first tie was against San Jose, an opponent the Stars are
all-too familiar with now that they are (for whatever lame- ass
reasons) in the Pacific Division. Lemme see, a team in Texas,
located in the Southwest region of the country, was placed in the
Pacific division of the league. Yea, that makes sense! Thanks,
But anyway, Dallas and San Jose meet each other often this season,
and Dallas had a 3-1-0 record for the previous four meetings. Each
time these teams play, it is always a very tough, physical game.
This could be a result of last year's playoffs, where Dallas
disposed of the Sharks rather easily in the first round, despite
Bryan "Puke" Marchment's kneeing injury to Joe Nieuwendyk. Don't
get me started on THAT again!
The main idea is there is some bad blood between these teams now.
And this time, San Jose had Dallas down 3-1 in the first period.
Jere Lehtinen answered the first goal by San Jose, but the Sharks
had scored two more unanswered goals. The game could have easily
ended up a 3-2 win for San Jose. Instead, the Stars' power play got
Darryl Sydor and Tony Hrkac each scored with the advantage, and
brought things even at 3-3. The rest of the game was a furiously
fought melee of roughhousing.
Yep, I loves me some big words. There isn't much else to do while
drinking your favorite bottle of Ripple and perusing the latest
issue of Street Ho Magazine. So, I usually refer to the "Big-Ass
Book of Big Words for Ignorant Sports Writers" Almanac,
affectionately known as the BABOBWISW around the offices of LCS
Hockey. Highly recommended reading!
Oh yeah, the game. Um, neither team like scored or anything, so it
ended in a tie or something.
Jim Sobers Up
The net result - (N-E-T, get it? That's a play on words. Woo, I kill
myself. You know, hockey is like played with a net and all) -was that
Dallas pretty much kept up the same recipe from that point forward.
The Stars are unbeaten in their last eight games (6-0-2)!
They got great play from their goaltenders. Roman Turek has been
nearly perfect in his backup role so far this season (1.94 GAA,
4-0-2 record, .921 save percentage), and as stated last column,
Eddie Belfour is the mission man since finding whatever competitive
edge he had lost early on in the season. Eddie's stats aren't like
super or anything (2.03 GAA, 15-5-3 record, .909 sv), but he keeps
the team in the games during the important times, like a big-buck
goalie is supposed to.
The defense has been even stronger since the weak-side d-man has
been given the green light by Hitchcock to press up into the play
when a scoring chance presents itself. This usually means the d-man
quietly sneaks into the slot when the forwards are cycling the puck
down low, with the full attention of the opposing defense on the
forwards. The d-man can then take a quick pass from any available
forward and rip one on net. (A puck, ya dolt! Not anything related
to bodily functions!)
This one change alone was the main factor in captain Derian
Hatcher's recent scoring explosion. Big Daddy Hatch now has six
goals, six assists. The six goals already tie Big Hatch's entire
goal production from last season. Looks like he might be a good
candidate for the Norris, if he keeps this up.
And, the Stars are getting balanced scoring from all their forwards,
including both Modano's and Nieuwendyk's lines. While Jere Lehtinen
may be the only Star to have broken the double-digits in goals
(10-4-14), he is only one of 10 Dallas players with five or more
The main point is the offense is scoring at even strength, on the
power play, shorthanded, and has now discovered the throttle.
Lately the Stars have blown out several opponents, including a 7-3
win against St. Louis, a 6-2 win against Edmonton, and a 5-1
pounding of the Red Wings (HA! We got your number this time,
Of course, coach Ken Hitchcock is all giddy again with his team.
They are back on track, winning, and confident. Quite the
"The difference in the last three to four weeks is one thing, and
that is balance," Hitchcock said to explain the Stars' turnaround.
"We're getting production from everybody. We're not sitting there
relying on one line to score everything for us. That's a sign of a
real good team."
And, it's the sign of a real good team that only has one thing left
to prove - win The Big Hardware. The Whole Enchilada. Hockey's Holy
Grail. Aw, you know what I mean.
Until then, sit back with your favorite bottle of Ripple and enjoy
* Trade rumors abound lately in Big D. The Stars are looking for a
left wing, the position they are sorely lacking in. In fact, Dallas
converted defenseman Dan "Big Game" Keczmer into a left wing for
just this reason. Ever since the departure of Greg Adams and Juha
Lind (who they might try to get back next year), Dallas has been
lacking on the left. Trouble is, who do you deal? Nobody wants to
deal any of the good players, for obvious reasons. And, if it ain't
broke - don't fix it. The Stars are still winning just fine with
all the retooled players (Darryl Sydor even spends some time on the
* Derian Hatcher has been involved in two highlight reel-quality
fights recently. The first came against St. Louis during the
SWEEEET 7-3 thrashing of the Blues by the Stars. Big Hatch got the
best of Kelly Chase, utilizing his gargantuan reach advantage to
pummel the hapless pugilist into submission (BABOBWISW !!) and
eventually pull his sweater over his head before the stripers got
The next fight recently came against Detroit, against Brendan
Shanahan. Nice try, Shanny - but Hatcher threw as many wild rights
as you did. This one was a draw, but both guys threw a serious
number (at least 20-30 per side) of wild right-hand punches - most
of them near-misses. But, it made for one hell of a good show!
Looks like Hatcher is ready to fully take the helm, and pound any
goon who gets in his way. Hatch will lead this team confidently
into the playoffs, and will be heard from when the time calls for
* Brett Hull has quietly(!!??!!) worked his way into the team, and
has become a consistent player since recovering from the bruised
kidney/groin pull injuries. Hully was misquoted regarding that
whole ice time affair. The following clears that up a bit:
"I thought it would be all emotional and stuff for me to leave (St.
Louis). I thought it would be more difficult than it was, because I
had been there for so long and I had so many friends there, but it
hasn't been," Hull said.
"It's been great. I started thinking about St. Louis and they told
me they didn't want me anymore. That's fine, they didn't want me.
Good, I moved on. They've really accepted me here. This team was
getting this guy who has a reputation for bitching about everything
and being a loud mouth. Right from Day 1 it's been good for me.
They've welcomed me and I've fit right in."
And, when asked about his linemates, Hull was complimentary.
"(Modano) has got to be one of the top three players in the league.
He's got it all: He can skate, shoot and score. Then I look on my
other side and I've got the Selke Trophy winner (Lehtinen)," Hull
says. "Is that great, or what?"
And, about that ice-time thing:
"I was misquoted. Hey, I'll stand behind all the things I say even
if somebody thinks they're stupid, but that one was taken out of
context," said Hull.
"Reporters in Dallas just asked me how I felt about my ice time
after I played 11 minutes in a game. I told them it was hard for me
to do anything in 11 minutes, but I couldn't complain, I played 25
minutes the night before." (Quotes Courtesy of SLAM! Hockey)
The sweet part is Hully finally got to show up the Blues. He and
Nieuwendyk each scored two goals in the 7-3 thrashing of St. Louis
by Dallas. This should put him fully with the Stars, and retire the
St. Louis influence - finally.
Brett has found his scoring touch (9-9-18), has meshed with the
team, and is saying all the right things. Could it be he really
will turn out to be the difference when it comes to winning the
Cup? At least he's now in the right position to make it possible.
* After a lengthy scoring drought, Pat Verbeek (7-4-11) has finally
gotten back on the board. He credits the luck to lighter sticks. "I
can really tell the difference," he told The Dallas Morning News.
* Joe Nieuwendyk (9-12-21) was one of the main influences in getting
the team turned around. As he always does, when some questioned his
health following the return from both knee surgeries, Joe pulled up
his laces and went to work - scoring several key goals lately (two
goals vs. St. Louis, among others), and becoming a more vocal
influence on his teammates. He was one of the only players that
acknowledged the players slump, and challenged them to overcome it.
Joe is the man. He's a great leader.
* Mike Modano hasn't been that lucky. Although he leads the team in
scoring (8-19-27) and is a plus-5, he has been hampered by
attention by the opposing team. Whenever Modano gets anywhere near
the play, he usually has 2-3 grunts hanging all over him. While
that's no way to rack up impressive individual numbers, it is a way
to help the team win. It is turning out that Modano's presence on
the ice is opening Hull up more, instead of the other way around.
But Mighty Mo will find a way to start bagging more goals. He
* Jere Lehtinen still continues to be pretty much the best player on
the team. While his numbers are less than most of the leaders
(10-4-14), it is the timeliness of his points that are impressive.
Lehtinen is always scoring at key times, when if he hadn't scored,
the game would be in the toilet for the Stars. Besides his
offensive flair, one can't forget Jere's incredible, unmatched work
ethic and defensive talents. He is a better forward than most
forwards, while being as good or better of a defenseman than many
dedicated d-men. This guy IS worth several million a year, unlike
many others out there (you know who you are!).
* Dallas has been getting good production out of Jamie
Langenbrunner, Tony Hrkac, Mike Keane, Grant Marshall, and Brian
Skrudland lately. These are the guys who don't always show up on
the score sheet, but always make good plays to one way or another
benefit the team. Their general resurgence tends to reflect the
team's efforts as a whole - things are getting much better. And
they are definitely still looking up.
* Defenseman Darryl Sydor is STILL second on the team in points
(8-16-24) since exploding onto the scene early in the season. Syd
has developed into one of the best mobile defensemen in the league.
And he can play on the wing, if you need it! Another example of how
the Stars have been winning-any way they can.
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