FRISCO – The Stars have played three-quarters of the NHL season and most of them get some time off while the league breaks for the Olympics.
When Dallas returns, the team has 21 games in 40 days to finish out the season. That includes playing every other day in March. It’s a compact schedule that will test their endurance. They’ll need to play well to climb into playoff position.
So while we have a moment to catch our hockey breath, let’s take a look at the various positions on the ice and how they’ve done this season. Remember, we’re basing our ratings – arrow up, arrow down, arrows to the side – on the entire season so far. It’s not just about the last few weeks. I've also asked Brandon Worley of DefendingBigD.com and Mark Stepneski of Andrew's Stars Page to give their thoughts as well.
Today's position: Forwards
Trend: Up. New coach Marc Crawford has installed his system, which includes a high-tempo, aggressive offensive approach. He wants the puck in the hands of his forwards as much as possible to increase scoring and put pressure on the opposing defense and goaltender. And the Stars are scoring goals. They are 10th in the NHL at 2.80 per game.
But it should be noted that in this system, the forwards must skate back and help on defense or things can break down in a hurry. At times this season, that was a problem for the forward group, but they’ve been much more solid about it the last few weeks. The Stars are 23rd at 2.92 goals-against per game.
Center Brad Richards leads the team in points with 66 and has been steady and consistent all season. He’s played most of this 2009-10 campaign on a line with James Neal and Loui Eriksson and that top line has been the club’s most productive. Neal and Eriksson are second and third, respectively, on the team in scoring. Richards has a way of finding teammates in space and giving them opportunities to score. It’s why he leads the Stars by a bunch with 49 assists. Richards is on pace for the second all-time highest scoring season by anyone in Dallas Stars uniform. Mike Modano had 93 points in 1993-94.
Interestingly, though, Richards is minus-19 on the road despite 15 even-strength points away from American Airlines Center.
Jamie Benn has also become a bright spot. The rookie has 29 points, including 15 goals and has shown a maturity to his game. Tom Wandell was a nice pickup for the Stars and showing some skills before his season ended with a torn ACL.
Mike Ribeiro's throat injury limited his season, forcing him to miss 15 games. It will be interesting to see how he responds down the stretch. He certainly added some scoring in his three-game return before the break.
Stars captain Brenden Morrow has had a disappointing season by his lofty standards. He has 33 points in 56 games and is on Team Canada, but it seemed that last season he had a gaggle of big goals and well-timed plays and that hasn’t been the case as much this season. Morrow did, however, seem to have some more energy the last week and he’s a player that understands what it takes late in the season.
DefendingBigD's thoughts:The emergence of Jamie Benn, and the domination of the Richards line has the Stars as a much more well-rounded offensive attack than may have expected. The Stars are scoring at a better pace overall, despite some woeful performances on the road. Trend: Up.
Andrew's Stars Page thoughts: They've relied too much on James Neal, Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson for offense at times and the lack of balance has hurt them on the road, but they do have eight forwards with 10 goals or more and the team ranks top 10 in goal scoring. Rookie Jamie Benn is a bright spot. The forwards have to take part of the blame for some of the defensive issues that have plagued the team at times. Trend: Average.