Monday, February 27, 2012
Joe Nieuwendyk showing faith in Stars
By Jean-Jacques Taylor ESPNDallas.com
During his three seasons as general manager, Joe Nieuwendyk has shown us more than once that he's not adverse to making tough decisions.
And he was more than willing to do it again Monday as the National Hockey League's trade deadline approached.
But Nieuwendyk opted to stand pat and see if the Stars can make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 after no team overwhelmed him with an offer for Steve Ott and the Stars have won four consecutive games.
Good for him.
"We have a responsibility to put the best team on the ice right now to challenge and make the playoffs," said Nieuwendyk, "and we didn't want to risk moving anything that wouldn't help us going into the future.
The Stars rallied to defeat Vancouver on Sunday for their fourth consecutive win.
"This team has shown it's committed to each other and it's going to fight to get into the playoffs."
It will be a difficult task for the Stars, currently eighth in the Western Conference.
Too many teams are competing for the final two spots for Dallas to back into the playoffs. The Stars will have to earn it.
The Stars are just three points behind division-leading Phoenix, but they're also only six points ahead of last-place Anaheim. Of the Stars' final 19 games, Edmonton is their only opponent currently with a losing record. Dallas will play the Oilers twice.
They play Vancouver three times and have seven other games against teams at least 10 games over .500, including Wednesday night's game against Pittsburgh at American Airlines Center.
Just so you know, in the past nine seasons, no team has made the playoffs with fewer than 91 points. The past two seasons, it has taken 97 points.
Much work remains.
Dallas, Edmonton and Minnesota are the only Western Conference clubs to miss the playoffs each of the past three seasons.
"I know we have a tough road ahead, but it is a message to this team that we do believe in them and this group has shown some resiliency," Nieuwendyk said.
"There's been a real commitment to playing for one another and becoming a real team in the last 2-3 weeks."
A week ago, the Stars had most of us convinced Nieuwendyk should trade anyone and everyone because of their consistently lethargic play. Then, they started playing like they cared.
Now, they've won four consecutive games for the first time since November. A month from now we might look back at their win Sunday afternoon over Vancouver, the Western Conference's best team, as the victory that propelled them into the playoffs.
The Stars rallied from a 2-0 second-period deficit to defeat Vancouver, 3-2, in overtime behind goals from Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder and Loui Eriksson.
"We didn't want to make his job easy," Ribeiro said of Nieuwendyk . "We wanted him to have to make some tough decisions."
Vancouver had been 26-0-0 when leading after two periods this season. Since 2006, Vancouver is 93-0-4 when leading after two periods.
The Stars won because they followed Glen Gulutzan's request to play a simple, tactical game with energy and effort. If the Stars will consistently play the way Gulutzan wants them to play, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.
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"Three weeks ago, it was hard to figure out what our team was all about. We didn't look like a team," Nieuwendyk said. "We were having a lot of difficulty, but it has been encouraging in the absence of Jamie Benn (thigh) and Brenden Morrow (back) that Ribeiro, Ryder and Eriksson have provided us what a No. 1 line should provide."
Nieuwendyk has a plan for putting an annual contender together, and you can see some of it coming together.
He wants puck-moving defensemen capable of starting an attack, which is why Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski, both of whom had a key assist against Vancouver, have received contract extensions this season.
And he wants players capable of controlling the puck, as well as those physical enough to go into the corners and get it back when it's been lost.
Clearly, the Stars need more pieces because, as currently comprised, they're not nearly good enough to win without a high-intensity level. They've proven that to us time and time again this season, frustrating Nieuwendyk and Gulutzan numerous times.
But the Stars have apparently found a rhythm at just the right time. Their confidence is buoyed by the imminent returns of forwards Benn and Morrow.
There's a good chance Benn will play against Pittsburgh, and Morrow will return next week.
Perhaps that'll be enough to justify Nieuwendyk's faith in the Stars and push them into the playoffs.
Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.