Thursday, October 27, 2011
Stars keeping the odd-man rushes down
By Mark Stepneski
FRISCO -- The Dallas Stars head into Thursday’s game with the Los Angeles Kings allowing 1.89 goals against, which ranks fourth in the NHL.
The goaltending of Kari Lehtonen has played a big part in that ranking. So has the play of the guys in front of him. The Stars have been pretty good at limiting the number of prime scoring chances, especially when it comes to odd-man rushes.
There are no stats on the number of odd-man chances given up, but there is no doubt the Stars are giving up a lot fewer of them this season. It’s one of the byproducts of the team’s defensive play under new head coach Glen Gulutzan.
“He wants us to protect the middle of the ice and the forwards really have to do a lot of work,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas. “They have to track back and help out on the backchecking and I think that limits a lot of chances.”
That tracking, which was one of the key elements of the team’s play put in place during training camp, is top of mind among the Stars’ group of forwards.
“A huge emphasis for us is our trackers, our forwards coming back and pressuring the puck no matter who has it and where it is on the ice,” said Stars forward Toby Petersen. “When they’re coming, we’re pressuring. I think because that is on the front of our minds we are always aware that we do need a guy back so that we can pressure the puck. If you give these guys time they’re going to have a lot of opportunities to score, so we’re always aware and ready to have a third guy ready to come back in case there is a backchecking situation.”
For the defensemen it’s being smart about joining the rush and pinching in the offensive zone.
“If there is no play to be made, just come back to your position,” said Robidas. “I think it is just being smart.”
And another key is playing it smart at both blue lines, where turnovers can be especially costly.
“When we have the puck at our blue line and there’s no play, get it out,” said Robidas. “At the offensive blue line, if we don’t have a play, he doesn’t want us to turn the puck over. He just wants to make sure we get it deep, retrieve pucks, cycle and create chances.”
So far this season the Stars have done a good job of keeping the odd-man chances against to a minimum and it’s made a big difference in the team’s goals against average.
“It makes it easier on everyone if there are fewer odd-man rushes against,” said Petersen. “It’s going to make Kari’s job easier because the pucks he is going to see are with less traffic in front of the net, with less speed and more from the perimeter. That helps Kari and it helps our team as a whole that we are not giving up those Grade A scoring chances.”
*The Stars held an optional skate on Wednesday. About ten players took part including Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribeiro and Stephane Robidas.
*Stars coach Glen Gulutzan moved Adam Burish to a line with Morrow and Ribeiro in Tuesday’s game against Phoenix, but said he would probably put Michael Ryder back on that line Thursday.
“I think we’re going to go back with Rydes,” Gulutzan said. “I think I did it for 10 or minutes in third. … Last night Phoenix played such a methodical, defensive game that we needed to just change something up, just to give us a little bit of a spark. Burish is a guy that can do that for us.”