Right now, the Dallas Stars have as good of a claim as anyone to being the best in the entire NHL. The Stars lead the entire NHL in points with 42 which is an objective of a measure of the league’s best as you can find. In addition, the team is stocked with both top-end skill and stars but also has pretty good balance throughout its roster.
Closer to home, the Dallas Stars are exactly who the Carolina Hurricanes are trying to become in 2-3 years. The Stars path to get there is interesting. One would figure that they built from the ground up by drafting and developing players. While there is an element of homegrown talent sprinkled throughout the lineup, I would argue that the team was built more through ‘buy low’ trades than anything. The Stars pounced when Boston was willing to part with young talent Tyler Seguin and took advantage of Chicago’s salary cap struggles this summer in adding Patrick Sharp via trade and then using the salary traded away Trevor Daley to then sign free agent and former Blackhawk Johnny Oduya. Of the Stars top 10 scorers, only 2 (important ones in Jamie Benn and John Klingbert) were drafted by the Stars.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned by Canes GM Ron Francis as he tries to rebuild his team quickly with a system that is light on ready/near ready NHL forwards.
As far as the game itself, here is what I will be watching:
1) Sound defensive play
The Stars are an opportunistic and skilled team with many a finisher. In Raleigh in November, the Hurricanes played a decent game to about the midway point and then had a few breakdowns that the Stars pounced on and quickly rode to a lead and ultimately a 4-1 win. This is NOT a Corsi game – it is a quality of chances game. The Canes need to manage the puck well to avoid giving up too many of the type of chances that quickly end up in the back of your net.
2) The kids on the road
Related to #1, Coach Bill Peters will have much less ability to dictate match ups and shield players from tough ones. Hanifin/Slavin will inevitably find itself on the ice with Dallas’ top players, and it will be harder to get Jordan Staal’s line out against the Stars scoring line with the Dallas bench having last change at home.
3) Cam Ward
He is expected to start again. Despite winning on Saturday and Sunday, he is not playing particularly well right now. With a small margin for error against a good team, the Canes could really use 1 of his better outings.
The Hurricanes have won 3 games in a row only once, and it was all the way back in October. Will 2 wins loosen the team up, build confidence and be a path to playing consistent winning hockey? Or were the 2 wins just a blip on the radar of mostly stormy weather and just an interim gift by the hockey gods on the way to more struggles? I am looking for jump, purpose and especially execution early to suggest that must maybe the Canes are on to something that is lasting.
5) Seeking a horse
The Canes have had a few games where individual players or lines had outbursts, but any semblance of a run by a player or line that can carry the team for a week or 2 has yet to appear. Eric Staal continues to play decent hockey and finally notched a goal again on Sunday. Does that get him going? Jeff Skinner had 2 skilled finishes on Saturday and is easily capable of a multi-game run. There are legitimate options for scoring outbursts on the roster. Can 1 or more of them find a groove and help carry the team through a tough 4-game road trip?
The puck drops at 8:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John Forslund, Tripp Tracy and Michelle McMahon.