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Ken Hitchcock


C-Mike Modano, Guy Carbonneau, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tony Hrkac, Brian Skrudland. LW- Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Botterill, Dave Reid, Brent Severyn, Jere Lehtinen, Dan Keczmer. RW- Brett Hull, Mike Keane, Grant Marshall, Pat Verbeek. D-Derian Hatcher, Craig Ludwig, Darryl Sydor, Shawn Chambers, Richard Matvichuk, Sergei Zubov, Sergei Gusev. G-Ed Belfour, Roman Turek.


Brent Severyn, lw (back strain, 2-4 weeks).


Placed Brent Severyn, lw, on injured reserve.


12/07 at Calgary  W 3-2
12/09 San Jose    T 3-3 
12/11 Montreal    W 3-2
12/13 at Chicago  T 2-2 
12/15 St. Louis   W 7-3
12/18 at Detroit  W 3-1
12/20 at Ottawa   W 3-2


Pacific Division    GP   W   L   T   PTS   GF   GA   
  Dallas            30  19   5   6    44   89   62  
  Phoenix           27  18   5   4    40   78   49  
  Anaheim           31  12  12   7    31   75   73   
  San Jose          30   8  15   7    23   62   71   
  Los Angeles       32   9  20   3    21   70   91


by Jim Panenka, Dallas Correspondent

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 Dallas' favor.

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 with it.

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, Bettman.

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 busy!

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 goals.

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, Hockeytown!).

Of course, coach Ken Hitchcock is all giddy again with his team. They are back on track, winning, and confident. Quite the combination, eh?

"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 the show!

Other Notes

* 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 wing lately).

* 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 involved.

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 it!

* 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 always does.

* 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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