Thursday, November 6, 2008
Frustration mounting for struggling Stars
The Dallas Stars have surprised us for the wrong reasons early this season, with their 4-6-2 record. But maybe we should have expected some form of adjustment.
This is a team that lost Mattias Norstrom, Stu Barnes, Niklas Hagman and Antti Miettinen from last season's roster, and it hasn't had Sergei Zubov and Jere Lehtinen in the lineup yet this season (although Zubov may return Friday, more on that below).
You're talking about six veterans who had a huge impact on the Stars last season.
Sean Avery was essentially the only veteran add-on in the offseason, and at this point I'm not exactly sure that was a positive one. In fact, I know it wasn't.
The Stars have had to fill the holes with young faces, guys like Brandon Crombeen, Fabian Brunnstrom and James Neal.
"We lost NHL players, and they were replaced by young players who will be good NHL players," Stars head coach Dave Tippett told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "But it's going to take some time for them to get up to speed."
Then there's Marty Turco. He ranks 34th among NHL goalies, also known as dead last, in both goals-against average (4.34) and save percentage (.837).
"I don't think anybody expected Turc to start the year like he has," Tippett said. "And he's going to battle out of it. You look at his career numbers. But I've never seen him have a stretch like this ever. He just hasn't been able to get on track yet.
"Some of that is the team in front of him, too."
Turco will bounce back, I guarantee it.
He'll be helped by the returns of Zubov and Lehtinen. The latter should be back within the next seven days. The all-star Zubov much sooner.
"I think Zubie will play Friday," Tippett said.
That is a huge development for a Stars team that depends so much on Zubov for their transition game, defensive game and power play. Not to mention his leadership.
So once Turco is Turco again and Zubov and Lehtinen are back for good, this is a Stars team that should turn things around.
But one thing that isn't sitting well with me is the Avery addition. Mike Modano exploded after last Saturday's loss in Boston, a game in which the antics of Avery and fellow agitator Steve Ott essentially cost the Stars in a third-period collapse. Avery and Ott got into it with fans and on-ice officials. Modano called it "idiotic and stupid."
And you might suspect, Tippett did his best to downplay it to me. That's his job.
"Mike's got no problem playing with Avery or Ott," said Tippett. "He'll be on a line with Avery today at practice. There's no problem there at all. It's the frustration of losing that's got everyone upset."
Still, Tippett did have a chat with his agitators.
"We addressed some things," Tippett said. "We have to focus our energies on the ice and not on the fans and not on the referees."
The Stars already had an agitator in Ott. Not sure why they needed Avery. That's overkill, in more ways than one. I think his act is already wearing thin on some players in the Stars' dressing room.