After opening the season with a 6-4-1 record in October, many believed that the veteran Dallas Stars wouldn’t be able to adjust to the new NHL. The Stars have proved their naysayers wrong by going 8-2-0 over their last 10 games and have quietly climbed to the top of the Pacific Division. Their turnaround been led by the stellar play of their goaltender Marty Turco, who was recently recognized as the NHL’s defensive player of the week.
While the team has been good defensively, they have also begun to click offensively. They have scored at least four goals in four of their last eight games, beginning with their 9-1 victory over Chicago earlier this month. The Stars increased goal scoring has come from a multitude of players. In fact, 16 of their players have scored at least a goal while their power play has been red hot, boasting a goal in each of the team’s last 11 games.
“After Chicago, we started to click. We started to control the puck more. That’s the key for us to get more time instead of just chipping it in,” said Stars prospect Antti Miettinen.
Just as important is the fact that the team has not suffered any major injuries despite a mostly veteran lineup. The team’s health and veteran lineup has forced Finnish prospects Miettinen and Jussi Jokinen to earn their keep.
And earn their keep they have. Right wing Miettinen has contributed two goals and nine points for Dallas in 20 games. He has averaged 12:36 in ice time per game and has dressed for every game this season. The 25-year-old had the advantage of having played 16 games with the team in 2003-04, and with the Stars farm club all of last season.
Left winger Jokinen has impressed the Stars brass with his skill in what have been his first games in North America, period. The 22-year-old has gone two for two in the Stars only two shootout appearances and has seven goals and 14 points in 20 games this season. Even more impressive is that Jokinen has consistently been playing on Dallas’ top line with Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen.
“Playing with guys like Modano and Lehtinen has been great. They talk a lot about what we’re going to do on the ice so it’s been great to play with those guys,” said Jokinen.
The pairing of such a young player on a team’s top line isn’t normal especially for a winning team, but it was Jokinen’s play that won him the spot on the top line.
“He came into training camp and we had high expectations of him, but we didn’t know how far he would take it. He had a great training camp and really played well at the start of the season and it’s carried through. He and Mike seem to have some chemistry going,” said Head Coach Tippett.
“He’s a really intelligent player on the ice. He moves, skates well and has good vision of the ice. He’s good with the puck and knows where to be on the ice. So at 22 it’s pretty neat to see,” added Modano.
In addition to playing on the Stars top line, Jokinen has averaged 14:01 of ice time per game and an average of 4:01 of regular ice time on the power play. Playing on the top line and power play hasn’t fazed Jokinen. In fact, he seems to be thriving on the pressure. This became obvious in a recent game against Columbus when the left wing walked away with a power play goal and set up another to help keep the Stars winning streak alive.
“Of course I feel pressure, but I like being on the power play and being on the first line so it’s ok for me, but of course I’m that kind of person.”
According to three-time All-Star and alternate captain Bill Guerin, the addition of the two young prospects who are contributing has been just what the team needed.
“They’ve been great. That’s exactly what we’ve needed especially with this new system where you can’t just go out and trade for players every day. These guys have filled holes we had going into the season and they’ve filled them really well.”
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