You spend 80 consecutive days in 1st place, and you are quite sure that it is your year. The imminent return to the playoffs and the rising of a new group to continue the tradition of quality teams in Dallas.
You lose 10 of 12 as the entire Western Conference seems to pass you, and you are quite sure your goose is cooked and there is no way you will ever recover from this disaster.
I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle, right?
They were never as good as we hoped they would were – winning quite a few games when they were outplayed and out-chanced.
But, I assure you, the Stars are not as bad as we fear they are right now. The only game they have won in the month of February was against their old friend, Marty Turco and the Chicago Blackhawks. They have been in free fall since the all-star break, and the collective looks on the faces of the guys in this dressing room show evidence that this is clearly the darkest stretch of the season and old friends, doubt and despair are present and accounted for.
Let’s take a look at my 5 top reasons why this slide is happening:
1) Health – There is no argument here that the collective injury situation is just killing the Stars. Yes, other teams get injuries, but those teams are either spending more money and have more depth or they are not in the playoff hunt to begin with. When you try to purchase a Cup contender on less than the sticker price, you must cut corners somewhere and they have done that when it comes to depth players. When the Stars have been hit by injuries, they have cleaned out half of the Texas Stars’ roster, and it shows at times. Not that they haven’t had reasonable play from some of them, but overall, it makes the Stars look like a 2-line team where the injuries to Richards, Benn, Burish, Wandell, Barch, and Peterson have so thinned things up front that on Saturday they show a Ribeiro line and an Ott line that they have faith in. Otherwise, they try to use the remainder of what they have up front, but it is just too hard to play good teams on the road especially with less than your best. Meanwhile, Nik Grossman plays so much on penalty kill and in the defensive draw situation that they are stretched badly back there, too, even though it is just one defenseman down.
2) Goaltending – The Stars have perhaps been riding their goaltending too much this season and only now we are seeing a market correction, but whatever the case, it is clear the play in goal has dropped quite a bit this month. On the Canadian trip alone, the Stars allowed softies in all 3 games, including critical goals all week. The Staios goal in Calgary was a killer and the first Sedin goal and the first Torres goal in Vancouver were both devastating. It is tough to offer blame at these two guys who have been so good, but it is a clear drop-off in performance.
3) Getting the puck in deep – Simple strategy point that might be tough to pull off when you have so many forwards out. You simply have to get the puck in deep when you are trying to play a “simple” game. The Stars get to center ice and turn the puck over with play at the offensive blue-line that is costing them. The Stars have many skill players, but when you have such a short bench, you want to play as much of the game in their end as possible. Don’t try the risky pass entering the zone. Dump it in and make the defensemen have to turn and skate. Then, you barrel in there, and cycle them down. You simply must. And the Stars are not doing this enough.
4) Getting the puck out of your end – On full display against Vancouver especially, we are seeing teams attack the Stars with almost no mercy when the Stars get the puck in their own zone. It is relentless pressure because they don’t think that Matt Niskanen, Karlis Skrastins, Jeff Woywitka, and Mark Fistric can put the passes on the tape in the breakout. If they do, then the forwards need another strong puck play to get the puck over the defensive blue-line, and we are not seeing that often enough, either. This causes your defense to get pinned in and worn down. A recipe for disaster that we have seen all season (this is why many of us think the Stars desperately need to add to this group when possible) that is only growing worse at this juncture of the year.
5) Scoring – Last but not least, you are not going to win when you don’t put the puck in the net. 8 of the Stars’ 10 losses since the All-Star game have seen the Stars score 2 goals or fewer. So much of the offense goes through Brad Richards that this was to be expected, but it was going the wrong direction before he was hurt. But, on this trip that did not include #91, the Stars looked flat out impotent on offense. The Power Play needs to return and the offense has to create more scoring chances. Everyone is pushing as hard as they can, but we need more.
The good news is as follows – as bad as this month has been, it is all right in front of you. The slump has hurt badly, but now the Stars find themselves in a spot where they are locked up with their adversaries. They are not 8 points back or facing a steep climb. They are right in the thick of it.
And, even better, it appears help is here. When the Stars drop the puck on Tuesday night against New Jersey, it looks like many reinforcements will be rejoining the squad. Not sure how close we will be to a full compliment, but it will be quite close. Hopefully, that will be the giant gust of wind in the sails that they so badly need.