FRISCO — Through their first two games of the 2013-14 season, the Dallas Stars sit at 1-1-0 heading into their first road trip of the season, a trek beginning on Friday in Winnipeg against the Jets and ending Monday in Denver with a game against the Avalanche.
Of course, there is a Saturday night tilt at Minnesota sandwiched between those two Western Conference games, Dallas’ first back-to-back of the young season. But after falling 4-2 to the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at American Airlines Center, a game where Dallas conceded three unanswered to the Panthers after leading 2-1 at the start of the final frame, the Stars had plenty to improve on by their next game.
After that season-opening loss, Stars first-year head coach Lindy Ruff vowed that his team would clean up all those little things and defensive mistakes that helped lead to that three-goal outburst by Florida on Thursday evening.
And in Saturday’s game against the Washington Capitals, the Stars did exactly that, beating the Caps, 2-1, in a game where the eventual game-winning tally came in the second period and Dallas held that slim edge for the rest of the night to secure their first win of the Ruff era and of the season.
Seeing the Stars deliver such a more detail-oriented game just a few days after a disappointing opener was most definitely a great sign for a club that has missed the playoffs each of the last five seasons.
Change was the operative word surrounding this club during the off-season, from a new general manager in Jim Nill to the hiring of Ruff as well as the acquisition of players like Sergei Gonchar, Shawn Horcoff, Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin. And of course with the hiring a of a new head coach means a new system, a new philosophy and a new way of playing, changes which the Stars have clearly bought into.
“It’s happened really fast. We’ve already all bought into what he’s preaching. But we all knew the sooner we bought in, the sooner we were going to jell as a team,” Dallas captain Jamie Benn said. “That’s how we’re going to win hockey games, is everyone putting in the time and effort, playing the right way, playing the same way. That’s how good teams win, is doing everything right and doing the little things right.”
Ruff is of course the third different head coach that Benn has played for during his relatively short time with the Stars. However, for teammate Ray Whitney, the oldest member of the Dallas roster at age 21 who has played for seven teams besides the Stars and is currently in his 21st season in the NHL, and has obviously played for countless head coaches, he realized long ago that players really don’t have a choice but to buy in to what a coach is telling them, summing it up only someone who has over two decades of experience in the league can do.
“Well, that’s really the difference between our sport and other ones. Our sport, there is a dictatorship. It’s one way. It’s usually the coach’s way and that’s it and Lindy is no exception. This is the way things are going to be done and if you do it, you’ll play and if you don’t you won’t. So it’s as simple as that,” Whitney said.
Of course, it’s up to each player whether or not they decide to buy in as well as the degree to which they do so. But if No. 13 has learned anything during his long and successful tenure in the league, it’s that for the most part a majority of players do buy in and that the number of players that decide not to do so is relatively small.
“It’s up to you. It’s your choice to buy into it and most guys do. We don’t have anybody in the superstardom echelon that can say oh screw it, I’m going to do things a little bit more my way. Obviously, some guys get a little more leniency with how they play, but that’s kind of common with every sport and every team,” Whitney said. “But for the most part, everybody’s bought into and in fact, everybody has bought into what we’re trying to do.”
Stars veteran center Vernon Fiddler sees him and his teammates buying into what Ruff has been teaching as something they have to do if they are to end the club’s current playoff drought. And while the season is just two games old and this transition remains a work in progress, he and the rest of the room are definitely encouraged by the results thus far.
“You have to buy in. If you want to win in this league, I think everybody has to pull the rope the same way. If guys don’t buy in, there’s no use in anyone even being here. I think everybody’s done a great job of being focused in practices in learning a new system. There’s obviously going to be a few wrinkles here and there, but hopefully by game 10 or even game five we can have all those ironed out and be firing on all cylinders,” Fiddler said.
He added: “I think the coaching staff’s done a great job preparing us and teaching us everything new in the systems because it does take time to learn a new system. I think we’re getting better and better every day and that’s all you can ask for.”