Defensive deficiencies dog Dallas Stars

Defensive deficiencies dog Dallas Stars

Credit: AP

Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco (35) looks at a puck he stopped during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Mike Fuentes)

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by MIKE HEIKA / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on December 7, 2009 at 1:56 PM

Marc Crawford said recently that NHL teams can detect a weakness in an opposing team or player.

"They're like sharks out there. When they smell blood, they go after it," he said. "So you have to be aware that if you have a weakness, they're going to try to exploit it."

From the beginning of the season, the Stars have believed that their inexperience on defense would be an area of concern. And on Saturday, Crawford said his defense's inability to move the puck out of the back end was a key element in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

"I thought our forwards did a great job, but we didn't exit the zone very cleanly," Crawford said. "They recognized that the more pressure they got on, the harder it would be for us to exit our zone, and that caused some problems."

Could that be something that haunts the Stars? It's certainly a question Crawford is asking himself.

The Stars have been a model of inconsistency, posting a 13-8-8 record and sitting eighth in the Western Conference, but also going 2-6-5 after a victory. They have won back-to-back games only twice, and they have not been able to win three games in a row.

So is Crawford concerned that after 29 games his team still is searching for an identity?

"If you're being truthful, there are elements of our game that have to continue to improve," he said. "Our puck movement has to become a staple of this team. That's the way the game is right now. If you move the puck, you skate the puck and you do good things offensively with the puck, you're going to be a very good club.

"But if you're chasing the puck a whole lot and trying to retrieve it or you're trying to defend, then it's not going to be nearly as fun to play."

The Stars have a young defense, with four players 26 or younger. They also have a cheap defense, with $8.6 million spread among seven players – the least in the NHL. Nashville is closest at $12.2 million.

Stephane Robidas will get a raise to $3.3 million next season, and Nicklas Grossman and Matt Niskanen probably will command raises, but the bottom line is the Stars have a defense that, on paper, can be seen as a weakness.

Robidas said he doesn't feel that way on the ice.

"Nobody thinks about that when you're in the game. You just play," he said. "For us, we just need to make the smart, simple play and we'll be fine."

But if teams such as the Oilers believe a hard forecheck will work against the Stars, other teams probably will follow.

Dallas hopes to get veteran Karlis Skrastins (finger) back in the lineup Tuesday in Anaheim, and that could help. But Crawford said the defense has to be better no matter who is in or out.

"We have to find a way to become a good puck-moving team," he said, "and that starts with exiting your zone cleanly."

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