At some point this season, Dallas’ blueline should slip Lindy Ruff a thank-you note.
The beleaguered unit — which, according to this morning’s skate, will see 23-year-old Finnish rookie Jyrki Jokipakka make his NHL debut tonight against the Devils — currently sits 22nd in the NHL in goals allowed per game (3.17), yet Ruff continues to insist the defense’s issues are on him…not the players comprising it.
With the team giving up the 25th most shots per game in the NHL at 34.3, it’s Ruff stepping up and taking responsibility.
“That’s on me,” Ruff said after his team blew a two-goal lead Saturday in a 6-5 OT loss to Philadelphia. “I have to find a way to fix that.”
After a 6-3 win over Vancouver, in which the Stars led 5-0, Ruff said, “I’m going to focus on the good and try to clean up the bad parts. That’s my job.”
And, preparing for Friday’s game against the Devils, he said, “These are teaching experiences, and we need to take advantage of that.”
Ruff is probably trying to shield his blueline, and rightfully so. Brenden Dillon missed all of the preseason and is still trying to get up to speed. Sergei Gonchar opened the year on IR and hasn’t played yet, while promising Swedish rearguard Patrik Nemeth was lost for the season to an arm laceration.
As a result, Dallas has been left with a defense that’s light on big-league experience. Tonight’s group will be led by two veteran presences in Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski, but it gets thin from there; the Stars’ second pairing of Dillon and Jordie Benn have less than 250 games of combined NHL experience while the third unit of Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak is as raw as it gets (Jokipakka is, as mentioned, making his NHL debut; Oleksiak will play the 26th game of his career tonight.)
Ruff knows part of his job is to teach the youngsters, and he had some success with that last season when Dallas “figured it out” halfway through the season, and rallied to capture a playoff berth.
Thing is, Ruff wants the learning process to be sped up this year.
“I don’t want to be waiting half a season, I can tell you that right now,” Ruff said. “We’ve got work to do.”