Dallas vs. Washington

It was like opening night all over again.

The Stars and Capitals trading momentum all throughout regulation, up to the last-minute game-tier by Mike Modano. However, just like against Columbus, the Stars could not capitalize on their chances in overtime, and a sloppy defensive play led to a toe-drag wrister from Alexander Semin that won the game.

The Stars are now at 3-4-2 in their first 9 games of the season, and many Stars fans, often myself included, are wondering what the heck is going on.

I think there are two key problems to the Stars' rocky start this year: defensive play, and forward line combinations. Both problems can somewhat be attributed to injury; the Morrow-Ribeiro duo hasn't found a solid right-winger since Jere Lehtinen went down with an injury, and the defense is still without the veteran presence of Sergei Zubov.

However, now is not the time to make excuses and put the blame on something we can't control.

For example, the Stars defense should be strong, even without Zubov. Phillipe Boucher is a veteran leader as well, Stephane Robidas is a valuable defender who improves by the day, Trevor Daley is capable of quarter-backing a power-play and likes to play in his own end as well, and youngsters Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossman, and Mark Fistric are loaded with potential. Right now, it's impossible to blame any specific defender as the cause for the rough play; each one has their own partial excuse. Boucher is coming off an injury filled season last year, and was also injured for most of training camp. Fistric only played a partial season last year as an injury call-up, yet he doesn't appear to need any AHL seasoning. Niskanen and Grossman are young, still learning to play consistently, but definitely deserving of NHL time. Robidas is adjusting to a larger role overall, and it's hard to expect spectacular play out of Daley if he often only gets second or third pairing ice time. For the time being, the Stars can only hope that practice will improve the current group, and that Zubov can be a steadying influence once he returns to the line-up.

The forward group is another story. There aren't enough solid duos or trios to go around. For example; last night against Washington, the line of Morrow-Ribeiro-Eriksson played really well, and had a good game on Thursday against the Isles as well. However, Fabian Brunnstrom has also been great on that line, and he didn't click on a line with Brad Richards. Eriksson and Richards had good chemistry last year during the playoffs. One guy that can't seem to find a consistent place is Sean Avery. Now, I'm not saying he isn't a good player, because he might even be a key player. But other than a few nights where he's managed to either rough it up, and last night, when he scored his first goal as a Star, he hasn't been very effective. He's been shuffled around, but it's been very hard for coach Dave Tippett to find a good spot for him. Another question in terms of the forward line-up is; who will go down once Jere Lehtinen returns from an injury? Toby Petersen would initially be seen as the main candidate, but his play is very underrated. He got his only assist of the season so far on a skilled play to set up Fabian Brunnstrom's first NHL goal, and last night nearly scored a short-handed goal off of a pass from Mike Modano.

Moving past the negative parts of the season, here are some positive notes from last night's game and the season in general:

- It's nice to see a lot of Stars producing early on, despite the losses. Mike Modano especially is having a surprising season; not many people expected 4 goals and 10 points in 9 games. Stephane Robidas is keeping up his production from last year's playoffs; he's got a goal and 6 assists in 9 games. Brandon Crombeen is also producing beyond my expectations; he has a goal and 4 assists through 9 games while keeping up his physical play with 21 PIM's. Brad Richards should also have a strong season, with a respectable 2 goals and 6 points through 9 games, Loui Eriksson has the opposite, with 4 goals and 6 points in 9 games.

- Fabian Brunnstrom has found his job with Dallas; stand in front of the net, and capitalize on rebounds or passes from behind the net. He doesn't quite have the typical power-forward qualities; we've yet to see a particularly notable body check, or goal from on his back, but he's got the finesse skills to score in close, and it's gotten him 5 goals and 6 points in 7 games.

- Tobias Stephan hasn't looked to bad as a rookie so far this year. He's been credited with losses so far, but only because he closes out games that Marty Turco has essentially lost. However, in those games, Stephan hasn't looked to bad; against St. Louis, he only gave up a goal in the 3rd period after Turco gave up 5, and he only gave up one against New Jersey after Turco gave up 4.

- Here's some food for thought: Steven Stamkos has 0 points and is -3 in 7 games. Here's more: it's not his fault. That's right, even the people who are saying Stammer should go back to major-junior aren't blaming Stamkos. Instead, the coaching of Barry Melrose is probably at fault. Through his 7 games, Stamkos has never had more than 14:53 in ice time, and most nights, he doesn't get past 12 minutes. That's hardly the expected ice time for a guy with enough talent to be playing on Tampa's 2nd line. Tampa's only option is to send Stammer back down the OHL, let him dominate for the whole year, and hope that Melrose's brain kicks in and realizes that Stamkos can bring the Bolts a lot of points and some wins, too.

- How about this? Todd Bertuzzi is on pace for 62 goals....and 0 assists. As opposed to captain Jarome Iginla, who is on pace for 62 goals and 106 points. That would definitely be an interesting season for both right-wingers.

- Andy McDonald is on pace to have one of those season typical of Marc Savard and Joe Thornton, where the assists out number the goals 11 to 1. Literally, McDonald has a goal and 11 assists in 8 games so far.

That's all for now. I'll have a special pro-rate stats preview after the Stars play their tenth game against Minnesota on Wednesday.

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