In most preseason predictions, the Dallas Stars were a team that pundits overlooked. Through the team’s first six games, Jamie Benn and company have proved those doubters wrong with a great start to the 2011-12 campaign. Will they be able to keep this up?
The Stars were overlooked, assumedly, for two reasons: Brad Richards’ departure and the hiring of a rookie coach.
Richards was an offensive catalyst in three-plus years with the organization. In 220 games with the Stars, Richards racked up 227 points. He was especially effective in his final two seasons, averaging well over a point per game. So when Richards hit the open market over the summer, the Stars couldn’t compete with the big markets to re-sign the playmaking center.
Two players – Mike Ribeiro and Jamie Benn – have stepped up offensively to make up for Richards’ absence. Ribeiro has five assists in six games, while Benn has taken another step in his development (as shown with this goal).
With three straight seasons missing the playoffs, it was no surprise that Dallas parted ways with Marc Crawford behind the bench. They did make a surprising hire to replace Crawford, though. Before being promoted from AHL Texas to the NHL, Glen Gulutzan was an unknown from a national prospective. The 40-year-old rookie bench boss has put the Stars in a good position early in the year; if this keeps up, he’d have to be in the Jack Adams discussion before too long.
Some credit has to go to GM Joe Nieuwendyk, as well. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t re-sign Richards. During the free agent frenzy, he made some under-the-radar signings that have made an impact early on. Defenseman Sheldon Souray, who has five points and a +6 rating, doesn’t look like a player that has spent the last year-plus out of the NHL. Also, Michael Ryder was a nice find by Nieuwendyk.
Also, you can’t forget about goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Ever since coming over from Atlanta during the 2009-10 season, Lehtonen has fit in nicely. In his first five starts, he boasts a perfect 5-0 record, supported by a 1.58 goals-against average and .953 save percentage.
Despite the loss of Richards, the offense is still capable of putting up good numbers. The defense, which has been a weak spot in recent years, has been repaired with the Souray signing and acquisition of Alex Goligoski in February. And as you can see, Lehtonen is providing stability in net for the Stars.
In their five wins, the Stars haven’t exactly been mowing down playoff contenders. They’ll be put to the test with some upcoming divisional games. However, it’s a good start for a team that most pundits didn’t expect much from this season.
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