OTTAWA — The Stars beat the Senators in the shootout Sunday, 4-3. Captain Jamie Benn scored the shootout’s only goal. Kari Lehtonen stopped 33 shots, plus three more in the shootout, to help the Stars claim a two-point result.
Dallas coach Lindy Ruff, however, was not happy.
On the first 13 occasions Ruff tabbed his No. 1 center to take a faceoff, Tyler Seguin lost every time. Seguin had zero shots in 20 minutes 22 seconds of action. He rarely had the puck because he lost so many draws.
“It’s tough to go 0 and 13,” Ruff said. “The compete on that has to be a lot stronger. Scratch your nose on the ice if you have to.”
On July 4, first-year Dallas general manager Jim Nill acquired Seguin from the Bruins. Out for the Stars: Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow. In: Seguin, Rich Peverley, and Ryan Button.
Nill landed Seguin to be a game-changing center. Sunday at Canadian Tire Centre, Seguin changed the game, and not in the manner his bosses want.
Ruff started with a new first line of Seguin between Ray Whitney and Alex Chiasson. It was the first time Ruff split up Seguin and Benn. Ottawa coach Paul MacLean countered with his second line of Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, and Bobby Ryan, plus top-pairing defensemen Jared Cowen and Erik Karlsson.
After 40 minutes, Ruff had to scrap his plan. Seguin, 1 for 14 (his only win was against Jason Spezza in the second period), could not be trusted on the draw anymore.
So Ruff reunited Benn and Seguin. Benn took every faceoff.
“You’re going to have to get lower,” Ruff said of Seguin (37 percent winning percentage this season), using grinding center Cody Eakin (51.1 percent) as an example. “You’re going to have to get stronger. You’re going to have to get kicked out a couple of times. It’s a one-on-one compete. It’s a form of competing. Get mad. Get mad. You watch Eakin go into the faceoff circle. He’ll only get a foot off the ice. He’s bound and determined. You’ve got to look like that every time, especially when you’re having a tough night.”
On Tuesday, Seguin will play at TD Garden for the first time as an ex-Bruin. The 21-year-old will return with the same qualities he showed in Boston: game-breaking speed, exquisite hands, and a knack for driving his coaches cuckoo.
Seguin was a right wing in Boston. The Bruins liked his speed and shot on the outside. They didn’t like his flickering commitment level in the areas that make center challenging: faceoffs and defensive-zone coverage. They had two pivots in David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron who could do the job far more effectively than Seguin.
One month into his old position and new team, Seguin is trying to find his way.
“A lot different,” Seguin said of playing center again. “It’s been tough. It’s been great. I’d have a few good games, then have an off night. I need to find some consistency in my game. It’s definitely been an adjustment. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Through 14 games, Seguin is Dallas’s leading scorer (6-9—15). Seguin is averaging 18:45 of ice time per game, most of any Dallas forward. Seguin is filling the spot he manned when Nill, as Detroit’s assistant GM, scouted the teenager in nearby Plymouth.
“You watch players, there were only so many guys who could do what he could do,” Nill said, comparing Seguin to some of the other OHL boys. “He’s got great speed. He’s got real quick hands. There’s only so many of these guys in this game. He’s got that ability. He’s still a young guy. There’s more growth yet. He’s 21 years old. He’s still got lots of growth ahead of him. I’m excited about the total package of what he can do.”
On Friday, the Stars trailed Colorado, 2-0, at home. Seguin ignited a third-period rally. First, he carried the puck into the offensive zone, pulled up, and hit a trailing Alex Goligoski for a goal. Later, Seguin tied the game. After taking a feed from Peverley, Seguin snapped in his team-leading sixth goal. The Stars lost in overtime, 3-2.
Seguin has the vision and creativity to dish. Seguin’s speed and hands let him snipe. Seguin’s blend of playmaking and finishing prompted Nill to pull the trigger, even given questions about the No. 2 pick’s maturity.
Nill heard the stories. Nill had an idea that Seguin, like many wealthy 21-year-olds living in a big city, didn’t consider a sleepy night at home a good time. But Seguin’s talent, combined with Dallas’s absence of high-end centers, convinced Nill the reward outweighed the risk.
“It’s always 50-50,” said Nill. “There’s probably some good things I didn’t hear about. There’s probably some bad things I haven’t heard about. I had some conversations with Tyler when we obtained him. We’ve had some good talks. He’s a young guy that was on a veteran team. Lot of nights, he was on his own. He probably made some choices he didn’t want to make. He understands that. We’ve moved on from that. He’s been good in Dallas. We’ve had no problems with him.”
The Stars are in transition. Graybeards Whitney, Sergei Gonchar, Shawn Horcoff, Stephane Robidas, and Erik Cole are nearing the end. The Stars have youngsters in Seguin, Jamie Benn, Chiasson, Valeri Nichushkin, Brenden Dillon, and former Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. Dallas’s Cup-contending window won’t open for several years. By then, according to Dallas’s plan, Seguin will be in his career’s sweet spot.
“That’s the biggest part of this trade,” Nill said. “He’s 21 years old. When you look at our foundation of our team, they’re all under the age of 25. We’ve got eight or nine guys on the team here, plus another four or five guys down in Texas, and I know they’re going to grow together. When you look at all the good teams — Boston, Chicago — their core of players have grown together. At 26, 27, 28, that’s when they take off.”
In contrast, the Bruins’ are in Cup-now mode. Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, their three most important players, are at their best. So is their complementary group of Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Dennis Seidenberg.
Seguin had fallen out of the latter category. Last season, he scored 16 goals and 16 assists. By the playoffs, Seguin was a third-line right wing, scared of his own shadow. A cluster of factors — his stalled development, questions about his maturity, his pending $5.75 million annual cap hit — gave the Bruins the green light to bid him goodbye.
The Stars are realists. They won’t win the Cup in 2013-14. That’s why Seguin’s leash is longer than it was in Boston.
“It’s two different teams,” Seguin said. “They ask two different things out of me and my game. It’s a new experience here and a new opportunity. There’s times when things are different. But it’s just about me adapting.”
Seguin assisted on Whitney’s opening goal Sunday. After taking a dish off the wall from Chiasson in the defensive zone, Seguin knew Whitney would be blowing the zone. Seguin connected with an in-stride Whitney. The veteran blasted a shot over Craig Anderson.
But there are things a veteran coach won’t tolerate, even from a skilled player like Seguin. Seguin’s Sam-I-Am draws — he did not like taking them in the offensive zone, he did not like taking them in center ice, he did not like taking them on the power play — wore thin by the third period.
“It just wasn’t good,” Seguin said of his faceoff work. “It’s going to come with time. This is my first year at this position in the NHL. It can only get better.”