Dallas Stars off to torrid start

October, 18, 2010
10/18/10
4:57
PM ET
There is only one thing you needed to know about last season's Dallas Stars team. At no point during the season did the Stars manage to win three games in a row.

And you know what happens to teams that can't put together even the most modest of winning streaks? They end up with an invitation to a spring golf social, not the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It was a topic that came up at the team's first meeting of training camp. And it's a topic that came up again last week as the Stars were set to host their former captain Mike Modano and the Detroit Red Wings.

It's a topic that obviously has resonated with a young Stars squad that is off to an impressive if wholly unexpected 4-0 start to the season.

"We said we've got to be a team that puts streaks together this year. It's a topic that hasn't escaped us, that's for sure," head coach Marc Crawford told ESPN.com.

Some of the changes in Dallas are obvious, such as the departure and/or absence of longtime cornerstone players Jere Lehtinen, Modano and Marty Turco, which has opened the door for younger players like Loui Eriksson, James Neal, Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen.

Let's start with the obvious.

When the Stars acquired Lehtonen late last season and then signed him to a three-year deal worth $10.65 million, more than a few hockey eyebrows were arched. Lehtonen, the second overall pick in the 2002 entry draft, had suffered through a largely unsatisfying, injury-plagued run in Atlanta. Coming off back surgery there were also issues of conditioning and focus.

So far that risk has been rewarded in spades as Lehtonen has staked the Stars to a 4-0 record with a .932 save percentage. Perhaps more impressive has been his ability to bounce back from bad goals to keep the Stars in games.

"He's definitely put in the work and continues to put in the work," Crawford told ESPN.com.

Beyond that the team has received significant contributions from veterans Mike Ribeiro (in spite of his arrest for public intoxication), captain Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards, who have combined for six goals and 12 assists.

Adam Burish, acquired from Chicago, where he won a Stanley Cup last spring, has provided additional sand playing mostly with Ribeiro and Morrow.

Eriksson is tied for the team lead with four goals, two of which are game winners, while 23-year-old Neal is second on the team with six points.

On the subtle side of the Stars' success ledger has been the addition of associate coach Willie Desjardins, who spent the past eight seasons coaching the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League.

"Our coaching is a little better," Crawford acknowledged, crediting Desjardins with improving the team's systems play.

It's not perfect by any means. The Stars had the 28th-ranked penalty-killing unit as of Monday morning. But both Crawford and Joe Nieuwendyk cite a significant change in attitude in the Stars' dressing room this season.

"There's no doubt there's a different feel," Nieuwendyk said in a recent interview.

The players understand external expectations are low for a team that has missed the playoffs the past two seasons.

"When you get humbled as this team has been you've got to be at your best," Crawford said.

So far it's mission accomplished on that front.

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