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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Navigating the Stars, Part 2

If gauging winning streaks in the NHL, the current two hottest teams are the Dallas Stars (5 straight wins) and the (get ready for this) New York Islanders (4 straight wins).

Obviously, stark differences exist between these two clubs. In particular, one (the Stars) is in a good position to fight for a playoff berth while the other (the Isles) fights for pride and the opportunities for their young players to gain valuable experience and playing time.

The Frozen Pill will watch the NYI as they take to the road (possibly without leading scoring defenseman, Mark Streit who is day-to-day) with some of the player's fathers as they begin their Bonding Experience in FLA and TBL and will report soon on the team's attempt to keep the winning streak alive with surprising and exciting backup goalie, Yann Danis. (is he 3rd string? 4th? does it matter with the way he has been playing of late?)

But today, we conclude the examination of the NHL's 'hot buzz' team, Dallas Stars. Once the distracto-team of the NHL in the first two months of the season (Turco allowing 4 or more goals per game on more occasions than not, Captain Brendan Morrow going down for the season with injury, and the talk-favorite Sloppy Speaking Avery) are now in 6th place in the Western Conference amongst a tight fit of teams jockeying for playoff position.

The Dallas Stars have won their previous 5 games in a row and are set to take on the struggling Avs (14th in the West) tonight in Colorado. This Dallas team is energized and ready to keep the puck rolling. The game tonight is one of the few road games the Stars have in the month of February. After tonight's game, they will return for 4 straight home games, followed by 2 more road ventures in Chicago and Columbus and then return home again for an astounding 6 straight home games.

For the Stars, the playoffs start now. They currently boast a 13-6-4 Home record and now is the time for this team to pick up points and separate themselves from the other 6 teams currently jockeying between 57 and 53 points in the West. And this team believes they can do just that.

While Morrow and Power Play specialist Sergei Zubov are lost for the season, Marty Turco has found his road map back to his former self. Turco is 15-5-3 in his previous 23 games sporting a 2.40 GAA and a .909 save percentage. It should also be no surprise, the return of Jere Lehtinen coincided with the Stars turnaround in play. The fine Finn has shelved 3 Selkes and is a leader on and off the ice with his commitment to team play, conditioning and hard work.

Having Brad Richards finally feeling comfortable in the Stars' system is obviously making a difference as well. But when watching the game tonight in Colorado, watch the way Mike Modano and James Neal are playing with each other. They are constantly looking for each other on the ice and while Modano is a tested veteran and Neal (16 goals so far in the season!) is a rookie, one could be forgiven if they assumed these two gentlemen had spent years together on the ice. With Modano one of the league's best defensive forwards, Neal is comfortable crashing the net and creating space on the ice, looking for rebounds knowing Mikey Mo has his back.

It's simply fun to watch this team right now. And 14 other teams in the West are watching them closely as well.

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