New Stars coach Lindy Ruff hoping team will ‘compete’ in new system

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The puck drops on the Dallas Stars’ 2013-2014 season Thursday at American Airlines Center.

Fans know they will see new “Victory Green” uniforms on the ice, a fresh batch of new faces and a stoic, veteran coach behind the bench in Lindy Ruff.

It is easier to quantify the effect those new players will have on the team.

New Stars center Tyler Seguin brings scoring (32 points, 16 goals last season) and the experience of a Stanley Cup championship.

Defenseman Sergei Gonchar was second on the Ottawa Senators last season in points with 27 and led the Senators in assists with 24. With Gonchar, even the intangibles of his mentoring the Stars’ first-round draft pick Valeri Nichushkin, a fellow Russian, can be added to the equation.

However, the effect of Ruff drawing the X’s and O’s is more abstract.

Through training camp and the exhibition schedule, both players and coaches said the focus has been on Ruff’s catchphrase — compete.

“That’s one of the biggest things he said was to work hard, have fun and bring your compete level every night, and it’s going to help you out in the end,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said.

At his introductory news conference, Ruff said returning the Stars to the playoffs for the first time in five years has less to do with a new system and more to do with the attitude and atmosphere that surround the organization.

“The one thing is trying to set the bar high enough and hold the players accountable to that level to get them to a certain place that they can have success, but knowing it’s always within reach,” Ruff said. “The type of style we’ve played is a real hard, up-tempo type of game, with a lot of energy inside of it.”

The type of game Ruff described translates best on the ice in the form of the forecheck — or in basketball terms, an in-your-face, full-court press.

Much of the Stars’ work in Fort Worth during training camp was centered around finding the best places on the ice to force opponents into turnovers. Through those three days of practices, Ruff said he liked what he saw.

“We created a lot of opportunities and spent a lot of time in the offensive zone,” Ruff said.

It’s a system — or philosophy, whichever better describes Ruff’s coaching style — that Stars center Shawn Horcoff believes fits this team and its personnel.

“We’re going to be aggressive. We want to turn pucks over. We have skill. We want to attack and when we do attack we want the D to join,” Horcoff said. “You need to drive the net and get pucks to the net, if we are going to drive that D is going to be open.”

The blue line has been a problem for the Stars during their five-year playoff drought.

In last year’s lockout-shortened season in which the Stars played only Western Conference teams, Dallas outshot only three teams in the season series: Columbus, Calgary and Anaheim. In 2011-2012, the last full NHL season, the Stars outshot Columbus, Edmonton and Los Angeles in the Western Conference season series, and only outshot the New York Islanders among Eastern Conference teams they played more than once.

Defense will be the mark Ruff hopes to make on this team.

“Offensively we’ve been a good team,” Ruff said. “We know we’re going to have to be a better defensive team. We’ve had a couple of [preseason] games where we’re really sound in our own end, and we’ve had a couple of loose games. We have to become a more consistent team. Nobody can tell me that by playing loose in your own end is going to help you win hockey games. The better you play, the sooner you get out, the sooner we get to play on the other end. It’s as simple as that.”

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