The Dallas Stars finally snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes Tuesday night, but even the team's most ardent fans would have to admit the result wasn't a reflection of the process. This didn't look like a good team that finally started pulling together. The Stars looked more like one bad team that caught a couple of breaks against another.
Coach Lindy Ruff wasn't buying it as a turnaround moment, either. In fact, he went to the tool of last resort to make a point ahead of Thursday night's game against the Kings at Staples Center to make his point: he's benching a star.
Well, maybe calling Ales Hemsky a "star" at this point is a bit generous. Sure, he's being paid like one after signing a three-year, $12 million contract as a free agent this past summer. And he's getting top-six minutes, for the most part anyway, which implies he's being relied upon to chip in with some offense.
But Hemsky is struggling to find his place with the Stars. Since notching an assist on opening night, Hemsky has gone without a point in 14 consecutive games. For someone averaging a shade over two minutes a night on the power play, those are some stone cold hands.
Still, it's hard to blame a guy who is being used by his coach the way Hemsky has. From wildly yo-yoing ice time (7:26 one night against Minnesota, 18:34 a few nights later versus the Predators, back down to 10:13 against the 'Yotes) to a constantly revolving cast of linemates, his situation is hardly stable. Most notably, he's spent little time with Jason Spezza, the center with whom he enjoyed terrific chemistry late last season in Ottawa, leaving him to dart and dangle and drive the net and then wonder why there's no one in green anywhere near him to help out.
He's an even 50 percent Corsi for the season, but on the nights when his possession numbers have suffered, that's been a key problem -- the failure of his linemates to support him on the attack. Watch this team and you'll be stunned by how often he winds up alone in the offensive zone. And Hemsky, for all his many gifts, isn't a player who can get it done by himself.
That's not to say he doesn't deserve his share of the heat, and he'll be the first to admit it. Could he be doing more away from the puck? Absolutely. When the puck's not going in a player has to find other ways to earn his ice and Hemsky hasn't stepped it up in that department. And even when he's not being supported, you'd expect to see him firing more pucks toward the net. He's averaging just over 1.5 shots per game, down from his career average of two.
Clearly Ruff has to do something. But instead of giving Hemsky the what he needs to succeed -- a steady shot with Spezza, or time with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, for example -- he's giving him the goat horns.
The Stars hope this break allows Hemsky to hit the mental reset button.
Hemsky just has to hope he'll get a fair shot moving forward.