As expected, the Dallas Stars remain a work in progress in the first season under new head coach Lindy Ruff. There have been some good moments, like the Stars sweeping their three-game road trip through the Eastern Conference last week that saw them beat Ottawa and Boston in the shootout and close out the roadie with a big win in Detroit in overtime.
And there have been bad moments, like the Stars being unable to capitalize on any of six power play opportunities in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the reigning NHL Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. But such is life when a team has made so many changes in the offseason like Dallas did, with a new head coach in Ruff, new players like Shawn Horcoff, Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin plus a new general manager in Jim Nill.
However, if there is one thing that is definitely different with this year’s team compared to the last few Stars squads it’s that opposing players and coaches are starting to take notice of the turnaround Dallas is currently in the midst of under Ruff. No longer do they see the Stars as a likely win on the schedule. Teams heading to American Airlines Center now know they’re in for a tough battle each and every time they travel to Dallas.
Before Saturday’s loss to Chicago, two prominent figures for the Blackhawks heaped some nice praise on the Stars and how they are definitely a different club this year than they have been in seasons past.
Hawks right wing Patrick Kane made some headlines for his praise of Seguin, someone he skated with during last year’s NHL lockout in Switzerland. However, Kane also said after morning skate that he likes what the Stars have been doing overall in the early stages of the season.
“They’re probably different than what we’re used to seeing the last couple years. It’s going to be a dangerous team. They like to run and gun a little bit and have a lot of offensive players that can make some plays up there,” Kane said. “It should be a good test for us and could be the start of a new rivalry, especially with them in our division now.”
Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville, a big reason why the Hawks have raised Lord Stanley’s Bowl twice in recent history, also said it’s clear that Ruff has already made some big changes to the Stars, changes which his coaching colleague feels are starting to pay dividends.
“Just watching them play they’re playing a real good game. They’re playing a real strong team game. Things are happening quick. They pressure you. They’re fast. They’re quick. They attack well so I think we’ve got to be prepared for a team that is not the same team we saw last year for sure,” Quenneville said before Saturday’s game.
But it wasn’t only the Blackhawks who have a healthy respect for the job Ruff has done thus far in starting to right the ship in Big D. When the Colorado Avalanche were in town several weeks back for a game at the AAC, first-year Avs head coach Patrick Roy also gave the Stars some love for what a different and improved team they seem to be from the past few seasons. “This is a good team. Honestly, this is a very good team. They’ve got a lot of speed. They’re tough to play against. I can tell that to you,” Roy said after morning skate. “They’re playing really well. I think highly of these guys. They’re well coached. He (Ruff) is a really good coach.”
Of course, getting respect from opposing coaches and players is nice but fans agree that there is only one thing that matters and that’s wins and losses. But to hear those who are facing this revamped Stars squad say that this is definitely a much different group than what they faced in Dallas over the past few seasons is a clear sign that Ruff, Nill and Company have not only made their share of changes, but it’s also a sign that those changes are starting to pay off.
Now the Stars may or may not make the playoffs this season, but it’s way too early to tell. But there seems to be a consensus among every opponent Dallas has faced so far this season that they are starting to put it all together and that the Stars will no longer be an easy “W” for any team on their schedule no matter whether that game is at the AAC or on the road.
And like most hockey coaches and general managers are prone to say, this is indeed a PRO-cess and one replete with its share of ups and equal share of downs. But based on what several of Dallas’ foes have said so far this season it’s clear the Stars are headed in a great direction under Ruff’s veteran tutelage on the bench.