Let's Just Not Mention The I-Word Anymore, Capeche?
The Stars were lucky enough to avoid games lost by players due to
"physical problems" (don't mention that damn I-word) for most of
the season. That is, at least until a certain idiot correspondent
jinxed the whole thing by bringing that fact into light.
Following that ill-advised and mis-timed mention, Dallas was hexed
with three key player's physical problems in a row. Brian Skrudland
had already been out awhile due to a cartilage tear in his ribs.
Then Darryl Sydor fell victim to "the Reunion Meat Grinder." The
poor ice at the arena has already cost the Stars several knee
twinges because of ruts (Brett Hull was an early-season victim), so
Sydor was lucky to escape with just a sprain. Lastly, Brett Hull
suffered a strained hamstring muscle.
Just like that, the Stars were without their number-one goal scorer
and power-play threat in Brett Hull, their number-one scoring
defenseman in Darryl Sydor, and had lost their third-line centerman
in Brian Skrudland (although that one technically isn't my fault).
So due to that bad luck, this column will no longer mention the
I-word -- you know the one we're talking about. At least not until
the playoffs are over. I have learned my lesson! It's not like I'm
superstitious, or anything. But just go with me here, OK? Cool.
Stars sign Lidster to Bolster Defense (Defence for all you Great
In a not-so-surprising move, Dallas GM Bob Gainey announced that the
Stars have signed semi-retired veteran defender Doug Lidster to a
one-year deal. The trigger was pulled on this deal when Sydor went
down with the strained knee. It was obvious that Dallas would need an
extra defender with playoff experience just in case another key
defender is lost during the playoffs.
Lidster, a 38 year-old veteran, has played 14 seasons in the NHL.
Some career highlights include 10 seasons with the Vancouver
Canucks, as well as being a four-season member of the New York
Rangers, including the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team. He spent
the beginning of the 1998-99 season with the Canadian National
Team, where he had 4 goals, 15 assists, and 64 penalty minutes in
"Doug will provide depth and experience to our team as we enter the
stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs," said GM
In 880 career games, Lidster has 75 goals and 268 assists for 343
points with 669 penalty minutes. Lidster was noted as saying he was
pretty sure he'd never play again in the NHL, but was very happy to
sign with the Stars for another go.
He played in his first game as a Star vs. Buffalo on March 5, where
he was held pointless with one shot and was even at plus/minus. He
showed promise by sneaking in to attempt a few shots on net while
Dallas had possession in the offensive zone, which probably
indicates Lidster is already feeling at home back in the big
Modano Answers Critics With Two Hat Tricks In Three Games
After a poor performance and being challenged in the press by his
head coach, Mike Modano lit the afterburners and went to work,
scoring two hat tricks in three games.
The first hat trick came during a 5-1 win over Chicago on Feb. 19.
The second, which also registered as the seventh of Modano's
career, came during the first game of a home-and-home series vs.
the Nashville Predators on Feb. 23 where the Stars held on to win
Afterwards, Modano spoke to the media about his increased leadership
role on the team.
"I think it's just a lot more responsibility on my part," Modano
said. "It's something I never had in the first five or six years of
my career. It's something that Bob Gainey and I talked about a
Modano also indicated he wished he had listened more to Gainey
during the lean years, when he was challenged to be a more
complete, two-way player by the man for whom they say the Selke
award was created for (Bob Gainey). The fact that Modano didn't
listen to Gainey may have been one of the reasons Gainey stepped
down as the Stars head coach.
With that aside, Modano has really turned the corner, and is now
widely recognized as one of the league's best skaters, better
scorers, and one of the best all-around complete players. He has
received high praise by none other than linemate Brett Hull.
"From the minute I got here, we really hit it off," Hull said. "We
have the same outlook on the game. We have the same philosophy on
the game, we see the same things, and we know what each other likes
Modano currently leads the team in points with 67 in 61 games played
(25-42-67), and is a remarkable +20.
Carbo And Luds sit so Hitch Can Check Out The New Faces
With Hull out for a long period, Hitchcock began really shuffling
the lines to fill in that void. As part of this, vets Guy
Carbonneau and Craig Ludwig were scratches for the March 4 game vs.
the NY Islanders. The two were scratched so that almost-forgotten
forward Aaron Gavey and newly acquired defeseman Doug Lidster could
get some ice time.
Gavey, who was part of the Bob Bassen to Calgary deal, impressed his
team with a good performance.
"I think Aaron knows that this is a real opportunity for him," coach
Ken Hitchcock said. "I hope, for his sake and the team's sake, he
takes advantage of it. He sure made a big step today. He looked like
an NHL player out there."
Hitchcock also shuffled around the top lines by placing Jere
Lehtinen on Joe Nieuwendyk's line.
"I thought the biggest difference was when we put Lehtinen with
Verbeek and Nieuwendyk," Hitchcock said. "That was a very good line
for us. I thought Gavey's line was excellent, and I thought
Nieuwendyk's line, when we made that switch, had a lot of jump to
it. Those two lines really carried the mail for us."
Never mind that the line was subsequently dismantled during the next
game vs. Buffalo. Hitch will always keep 'em guessing when it comes
to line placements.
State Of The Game
Dallas is currently sitting pretty with a 40-11-10 record for 90
freakin' points. This is head-and-shoulders above any other team in
the NHL. With only 20 regular-season games left to play, the Stars
will look to keep healthy, and stay on course with the recent
re-focus on plain-old Stars hockey.
Which means they will win a lot of faceoffs by talented forwards,
defensively allow typically less than 20 shots per game, forecheck
a lot to capitalize on opponent's mistakes, and turn away most
opponent scoring chances because of the league's best tandem of
goalies in Belfour and Turek.
Although there are many trade rumors surrounding the team,
including interest in signing a gritty forward such as Adam Graves
and a ridiculous rumor that has Joe Nieuwendyk going to Vancouver
for Mark Messier, it is my personal opinion that Lidster was it -
there will be no further trades.
The Stars still need more depth at forward, but is their hopes that
upcoming talent like Aaron Gavey and Jason Botterill will be enough
to compensate for any loss during the playoffs, much the same way
Dan Keczmer stepped up and made a valuable contribution during last
year's series vs. Detroit.
Besides, there is no interest in trading away any current
forwards - and the team would be ill-advised to deal the
aforementioned young talent for a vet-for-hire. (Rent-a-vet?)
There's still a possibility that owner Tom Hicks will spring for an
expensive free agent, and Bob Gainey is surely still making the
rounds from his GM phonebook looking for a deal. But don't count on
anything this close to the playoffs, the dealin' is probably done.
*The Stars power play received new life during the close 4-3 win vs.
St. Louis on March 7. Dallas was able to score twice with the
man-advantage, including a beautiful over-the-shoulder wrist shot
from Modano against Jim Carey. This breaks a six-game streak
without scoring on the power play.
*Dallas just broke a ten-game unbeaten streak on the road with the
2-1 loss to Buffalo, and had posted another nine-game streak
earlier in December-January. This is a clear indication the team
plays much better off of their home ice, where conditions are so
bad that Reunion Arena is being mentioned as the worst ice in the
*On that note, the Stars are clearly spending time and effort to
make the conditions at least up to par for the upcoming playoffs.
Dan Craig, who helped make the ice at Edmonton the league's best,
gave Stars and Reunion Arena officials a maintenance program to
develop a better ice surface.
Stars president Jim Lites said that dehumidifying machines will be
brought in the first week in April, which is a month earlier than
last year. Lites also said that the ice will be shaved soon so that
it can be rebuilt with a smoother and harder surface.
"He was real helpful," Lites said. "We're going to do everything we
can to improve the ice. Perception is reality. If there's a
perception that the ice is bad, then it is."
The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. At
least, that's what they tell me in those "Drop the Demon Ripple!"
meetings at the local rehab center.
* Joe Nieuwendyk scored the overtime game-winning goal last night at
the Islanders to extend his current point streak to five games
(3-3-6), his third point streak this season of at least four games.
He has now scored the game-winning goal in each of the Stars last
three outings after earning the game-tying goal on Tuesday at the
Rangers and the game-winner on February 28 vs. Los Angeles. He is
still first in the NHL in faceoffs (63.7%, 530 of 832) and is now
fourth on the team in goals (15). Nieuwendyk picked up two assists
against the Penguins on February 26 for his seventh multi-point
game of the season.
* The Stars named Mike Modano the team's Player of the Month for
February after he recorded 15 points (7- 8-15) in 12 games with two
hat tricks and three game-winning goals. On February 23 at
Nashville, he posted his third hat trick of the season and seventh
of his career. He had two hat tricks in three games, having picked
up three goals on February 19 vs. Chicago. This marks the first
time in his career that he has recorded more than one hat trick in
a single season and is the first time since the 1985-86 season that
a Stars player has recorded three hat tricks in one year (Dino
Ciccarelli and Scott Bjugstad). He now has 15 points (8-7-15) in
his last 11 games and 28 points (12-16-28) in his last 22 games. He
is first on the Stars in assists, points, plus/minus and shots
(171) and is second in game-winning goals (4) and in goals (26).
* Having completed the first five months of the season, the Stars
entered March with a league-best 38-11-9 record. The 11 losses as
of the end of February equals the fewest losses for any team since
the 1979-80 season when the Philadelphia Flyers were 41-5-14
heading into March. The 11 losses equals the total that Detroit had
in 1995-96 after the month of February (46-11-4) when the Red Wings
went on to post the NHL record for most wins in one season. The
Stars did not suffer their tenth loss this year until their 48th
game, which was a new Stars' record for the most games played
before suffering ten losses.
* The Stars defense has allowed no more than 20 shots in six of
their last nine games and 19 outings overall for the season. In
games where they keep the shots below 20, the team has gone 13-4-2.
For the year, the Stars are allowing an average of 23.2 shots per
game, which is tied for the second lowest average in the NHL. They
have allowed 30 or more shots only ten times and own a 6-1-3 record
in those games.