Stars ready to begin another run for championship
FRISCO, Texas — Former division rivals Anaheim and Dallas are both ready to start the 2016-17 season on Thursday night at American Airlines Center and look forward to doing so for similar reasons.
The Ducks won the Pacific Division title last season with 103 points but lost in the first round of the playoffs to Nashville, a stinging seven-game defeat that was a big reason why coach Bruce Boudreau was fired after the season.
Randy Carlyle, who has the most wins in franchise history and led the Ducks to win the Stanley Cup in 2007 during his previous stint in Anaheim, returns for a second go-around in SoCal.
And after a tough training camp, Ducks regulars like defenseman Cam Fowler are ready to kick off the second Carlisle era in Anaheim.
“We've all come together for the last month or so and gotten through a tough training camp,” Fowler told the teams' website on Wednesday. “It's an exciting time and hopefully the start of good things to come.”
It's a similar story for Dallas, which won the Central Division last season, the Stars' first division title since 2008 and was the top seed in the Western Conference.
The Stars also won their first playoff series since 2008, eliminating the Minnesota Wild in six games in the opening round before falling to division rivals St. Louis in seven games in the conference semifinals, a series punctuated by a 6-1 loss in Game 7 in Dallas on May 11.
But any thought about that disappointing defeat lingering with the Stars to start this season is misguided, according to Dallas forward Patrick Eaves.
“That's in the past and we just have to worry about what's in front of us,” Eaves said. “It's exciting to get ready to start a new season. We'll be ready to go. It should be another good year, but we're looking for another good start.”
Dallas, who led the NHL with 267 goals last season, heads into the season with injuries already being a factor.
Cody Eakin, who centered the Stars' top line for much of last season, is out until at least mid-November with a knee issue. Veteran forward Ales Hemsky, who had 39 points last season, will miss the first few games with a groin injury.
And even with key offensive cogs Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin both missing time during preseason, the Ducks know that the Stars' mentality remains a simple yet effective one.
“They like to play that track-meet game,” Carlyle told the media after practice on Wednesday in Dallas. “If you allow them to continually enter with speed, you're going to be in trouble. They can put the puck in the net and play at a high pace.
“Their defensemen like to join the rush. We can't allow their defensemen to be consistently up the ice. That's creating havoc for us.”
Both teams were active in the offseason, but the Ducks made more moves. In June, Anaheim traded goaltender Frederik Andersen to Toronto and then acquired Jonathan Bernier from the Maple Leafs in July.
The Ducks also added veteran forwards Jared Boll, Mason Raymond and Antoine Vermette along with defensemen Nate Guenin and Jeff Schultz while re-signing Sami Vatanen to a multiyear contract.
Anaheim is currently at an impasse in negotiations with defenseman Hampus Lindholm and forward Rickard Rakell, who are not with the team, creating a noticeable void.
Despite all the changes the Ducks made to their roster this summer and fall, Stars coach Lindy Ruff has coached against Carlyle enough to know exactly how he likes his teams to approach each game.
“Well, (they're) tough teams to play against, (have) real good structure,” Ruff said. “We really feel that the chances will be limited. We're going to have to use our speed to try to get in behind that defense.
We're going to have to win our share of one-on-one battles down low to create opportunities because they'll be a tough team once they're inside their own end.”
Dallas made only a few changes to its roster from last season, notably in the back end, where Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell all departed and Dan Hamhuis came in. The Stars also added veteran forwards Jiri Hudler and Lauri Korpikoski.
After experiencing several offseasons earlier in Ruff's tenure where plenty of changes were made, Benn likes looking across the dressing room and now seeing continuity in the form of plenty of familiar faces.
“We've got a good group in here and I think we made another step last year, but it's a whole new year,” Benn said. “I don't think we're going to be a surprise to anyone anymore. Teams know how good this team is. It's just up to us to back it up, have that same killer instinct and mentality that we're going to go far every year, we're going to be a tough team to play against and a tough team to beat.”