Like any fan who follows the game, it's been more or less impossible not to trip over rumors that the cinematic classic that is Slap Shot might be remade. And if and when it happens, I think we might want to nominate Dallas Stars center and future member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Mike Modano, to play the role of Ned Braden.
I'm sure everyone remembers Braden, the daddy-hating Ivy-Leaguer who was horrified when Reggie Dunlop transformed the Charlestown Chiefs into champs by resorting to a near-homicidal brand of on-ice thuggery.
In the end, even Braden gave in to the mayhem by performing an on-ice striptease that unwittingly gave the title to Charlestown. But in this case, Braden, excuse me, Modano, has a point about the 4-6-2 Stars.
It was hard to not hear at least the slight echo of Braden's words coming out of Modano's mouth late on Saturday night after the Dallas Stars dropped a 5-1 decision to the Bruins in Boston.
Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News posed the question about the Stars and their early-season struggles this way:
Are they a strong defensive team that has built a reputation for finishing in the top five in goals-against average?And here's what Modano, as quoted by Heika, had to say about that:
Are they an agitating, annoying team led by Steve Ott and Sean Avery?
None of the above seems to be working.
Dallas tried the latter Saturday night, stirring up the Boston Bruins in a brawl-filled contest, and still found a way to lose, 5-1.
"Tonight, it was idiotic and stupid," Stars center Mike Modano said when asked what the team identity was. "It was one of the most embarrassing things I've seen. If that's what we're going for, then they need to find me an off-ice job."So what's the problem? After watching NHL On the Fly: Final tonight, Dan Pollard, EJ Hradek and Bill Berg posited that the agitating antics of Avery and Ott (who are playing together) have split the locker room wide open (where have we heard that before?) -- and the veteran Modano (10 points in 12 games and +1), a man who has the ear of co-GM Brett Hull, is going to do his level best to set things right.
"It was dumb penalties, dumb situations, that's kind of been the trend all season," Modano said. "There's no mental toughness. We're allowing the refs to get involved in the game with and spending more energy on them than the details of winning the game."
Under head coach Dave Tippett, Dallas had become known as a hard-working team that took care of defense first in front of Marty Turco. In the three seasons immediately after the lockout, the Stars never finished lower than sixth in the league in goals against.
But now Dallas is dead last in the NHL at 4.17 goals per game. Perhaps most distressing of all, that number has ballooned at the same time the Stars have managed to hold the opposition to just 26.3 shots per game, good for third in the league overall and a combination of numbers that would suggest that something isn't right with Turco. As for him, he's mired in last league-wide in both save percentage and GAA.
When it comes to taking "dumb penalties," it's hard to fault Modano's analysis. Overall, the Stars are averaging 20.6 PIMs per game, tied for third in the league with Philadelphia, behind only Anaheim and Columbus. As Anaheim demonstrated during their run to the Cup two seasons ago, you can always take penalties as long as you can kill them off. The Stars apparently have missed that memo, as their PK is at 75.4%, good for only 27th league-wide. I'd like to tell you that's the source of all their problems, but the fact is that Dallas stinks at even strength too, where they rank 26th in the league.
So what's the problem with a team that went all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season? According to Mark Stepneski, while there may be a number of familiar faces on the roster, the Stars changed out more parts than most folks realized, while other key components -- namely defenseman Sergei Zubov and forward Jere Lehtinen -- have been lost to injury:
"We haven't had [Sergei] Zubov or [Jere] Lehtinen. Both those guys are out and young guys are in their spot," said Tippett.In short, Mark Stepneski concludes -- with apologies to Dennis Green -- the Stars aren't the team we thought they were. With Zubov and Lehtinen expected to return off of long-term IR in the near future, the team may very well be on its way to fulfilling the promise so many saw in them during the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then again, watching this team continue to strip its gears while clawing for some kind of identity seems just as likely.
Throw into the mix that the Stars brought in several new faces like Sean Avery and several younger players like B.J. Crombeen, Fabian Brunnstrom and James Neal.
"[They] have to learn a lot," said Tippett.
And do that while filling some big holes left by key off season departures.
"They are replacing [Mattias] Norstrom, replacing [Stu] Barnes, replacing [Niklas] Hagman, replacing [Antti] Miettinen," said Tippett. "They are replacing good players. That's especially true of the young players."
You take the two key injured Stars and those four departed players and that's a third of the team's forward skaters in any game. Two key defensemen, both penalty killers and one a key component on the power play, are out of the mix.
UPDATE: In order to correct an oversight, I thought it would be a good idea to pass along the video evidence of exactly what evoked this reaction from Modano (HT: Bob's Blog):
And click here for an interesting take from a Boston perspective from The Bleacher Report.