Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tuesday Timeout

In the Western Conference it's not surprising to see the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings atop their respective divisions. What is surprising is seeing the Dallas Stars on top of the Pacific Division during the second week of December. This is a franchise that battled ownership issues over the summer, a reduced payroll, and are coming off a last place finish a year ago.

When the Stars started the season 4-0 they still had plenty of doubters. I saw them play live on Long Island, and they were pretty much the team I expected. A team that could score but had serious questions in their defensive zone. Kari Lehtonen was a big question in goal also, and Andrew Raycroft was an average backup at best. However, Lehtonen has made Stars fans forget about Marty Turco as he is 4th among goalies in wins. Raycroft has played brilliantly in the five games he has played thus far, posting a 1.65 GAA.

The defense, much maligned last season after giving up the second most goals in the Western Conference, has kept it together and is led by the 33-year old Stephane Robidas. He is a workhorse by playing 25 minutes a night and gives the team a veteran presence to help the younger defensemen Niklas Grossman and Matt Niskanen. Dallas has won ten games this season by one goal which is proof that coach Marc Crawford is finally focusing more on defense.

Even with the hot start and the development of promising young forwards James Neal and Jamie Benn, things are not all rosey in Dallas. Daily trade rumors surround leading scorer and free agent to be, Brad Richards. It is becoming more clearer that Dallas cannot take on more salary, and they may ultimately have to trade Richards. Fans are also not showing up in Dallas. If you watch a game on TV at American Airlines Center the front rows are almost always empty. The Stars rank 25th in attendance this year despite the fact they are a first place club.

Obviously, losing Mike Modano may have turned off some fans, but the Stars are better off in the long run. Hopefully, once football is over Stars fans will show up. This team has a solid core with the players we mentioned in addition to Loui Erikksson, who seems to always score big goals for Dallas. Definitely keep an eye on the Stars this season as it will be interesting to see if they're for real in the Pacific Division. With San Jose, Los Angeles, and Phoenix all having their ups and downs, this division is wide open.

Tuesday Pick: Boston -150 over Buffalo

Not sure what the deal is with Boston playing .500 at home thus far, but one would think they'll be a bit angry tonight after losing to Toronto on Saturday. This is the first of a three game homestand for the Bruins who handled Buffalo 5-2 during their first meeting. Ryan Miller was not in goal that night, but will get the call tonight and is coming off back to back shutout performances over Columbus and Ottawa. Look for the Bruins to win a tight game at home. In my mind Boston is the better team.

Season record: 4-0