Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dallas pregame - Q&A with Ben Ellis (@BigDHockey) from Big D Hockety

Yeah, so that was a shitstorm against the Hawks, huh? I'm too tired to write a long intro for this, but we need to get back on track on winning here. And while Dallas is a team the Wings should beat, they have been really good this year and will be a tough task. Hopefully their tradition of struggling at the Joe can continue tonight. Also, I won't get to recap this one because my two youngest siblings (one of which, baby sis, is a Stars fan) are coming over to watch with me.

Anyway, today I've been lucky enough to get some insightful answers from Ben Ellis of the great Stars blog Big D Hockey. Here are his answers to my Q&A:

1. At the moment of writing this question, the Stars are on top of the Pacific division and they have looked very impressive at times this year. What's behind this sudden improvement compared to the two last seasons?
Ben: I don't know that it's as sudden as it might appear. Last season the Stars had a lot of bad breaks in addition to some tough injuries, inconsistent play in net and weak defense. Even still, they were in the hunt for a playoff spot until the last couple weeks of the season. But, the biggest change between last season and this one is the man in net. The Stars have gotten really strong play from Kari Lehtonen in net. In addition, youngsters James Neal and Jamie Benn are showing that their good play last season wasn't just a fluke.

2. Do you think the Stars will be able to keep up this play for the rest of the season? How far can they go?
Ben: Yes, I think the Stars are showing that they're a team to be taken seriously. The Pacific Division is going to give them a run for their money, though. As of Saturday night, the gap between the first place Stars and the last place Phoenix was four points. That's five teams separated by four points; not a lot of room for mistakes. I'm not sure the Stars have the defense to hang with the big dogs in the West for a deep playoff run, but then again if you get a good locker room together, the unexpected can happen. I do think Dallas will make the playoffs this season and I expect them to make it to the second round, at the very least. But, as a Stars fan, I'm always dreaming of Stanley Cup glory...

3. The end of the Mike Modano in Dallas-saga could obviously have ended in more amicable ways. How do Stars fans feel about the way it all went down?
Ben: Stars fans are pretty split on this subject. The successful start to the season has kept complaints to a minimum. Mo will *always* be a Dallas Star. It doesn't matter what sweater he wore this season, he will never be booed in Dallas. He means so much to the organization and - on a much deeper level - hockey in Texas. For that reason, many Stars fans feel he should have been able to play in Dallas for as long as he wanted and retire on his own terms. It's something management promised him when he signed his last contract. But, with the ways things ended last season and the almost fairy-tale wrap-up his career could have had with the game in Minnesota, lots of folks were hopeful he'd hang up the skates. He obviously felt he had more in the tank, and wanted to play. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk made the tough call to not offer Mo another contract and let him pursue other options. I think it was the right call to make. If he hadn't done that, Mo would have been taking up a spot that has been used for many of our young guys to develop this season.

4. What do you fear from the Wings in Sunday's game? What will the Stars need to do to win?
I fear the same thing I always do when the Stars play the Wings: Detroit's depth. They're an experienced team with a really good bench boss in Mike Babcock. And The Joe is always a tough place for visiting teams to come into. It's that total combination I worry about. The other issue is that Dallas is coming off a game the night before in Columbus, and it's a 4:30PM CST start. If the Stars come out flat and give up a quick goal or two to the Wings, it might be tough for them to rally back later in the game. The Stars need to focus on coming out strong and taking it to Detroit early. In the same way, a quick goal or two *for* the Stars can swing momentum into their corner and give them some confidence heading into the later periods. They need to keep pucks out of their zone and away from the crease, whether Lehtonen is in net (or more likely Andrew Raycroft). Keeping Pavel Datsyuk off the scoreboard would be helpful too! It's going to be a pretty tough game for the Stars and a real test to their stamina.

5. Why should the Wings be worried about the Stars? What part of the Stars' game will they need to shut down?
Ben: The Wings should worry about the Stars ability to hang around. They're one of the best teams in the league in terms of pulling out wins when trailing after two periods. And, they seem to be in most every game they play right down to the final buzzer. It's pretty rare when the Stars are taken to the cleaners in a game, and if the Wings can't do that, the Stars have show the ability to pull out a win, regardless of the circumstances. One of the areas the Wings will be focused on is shutting down Brad Richards, who is in the NHL's top ten in scoring. They'll also want to put a ton of rubber on net; they'll need to keep Dallas netminder (whether it's Lehtonen or Raycroft) very busy all afternoon. That said, though, Dallas is still going to have a pretty tough job ahead of them on Sunday.

Great stuff from Ben. Interesting take on Mo and yeah, if Dallas' top guys perform I could see them do very well this year. Thanks to Ben for doing this!