Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stars Blog: Struggling in Alberta

There is certainly something that is remarkably rare and awesome about travelling with a professional sports team during the season. Having done this now for 7 years (taking a road trip with the team for about a week each season), we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And when you are lucky enough to be on the plane, on the bus, and in the hotel, there is no escaping the raw feelings of a group of guys who are pouring out everything they can in the name of winning and being successful in their life’s work.

Sometimes, it is flat-out giddiness when the guys feel like they have had a great trip. All manner of smiles and comedy break out in various sectors of the squad as they allow themselves a moment to soak in a successful mission before they ponder the next one that is close at hand.

But, on this trip, the one that just started in Edmonton with a rather disappointing (to say the least) pasting at the hands of the lowly Oilers, 4-1 Tuesday night, there is no hiding the gloom on the faces of the guys who just got done trying to stop the bleeding of these last few weeks with little success.

They know that they need a win in the worst way. They know that they have many pieces that are unavailable, because the long season takes a toll on the bodies of the men who play in the NHL. You simply hope that not too many of them hit at exactly the same time of the season. But, the Stars’ hopes did not come true. The injury ranks is growing by the day, and while you hope the Brad Richards and Nik Grossman absences aren’t very long, you also prepare for the news that has been mostly bad of late.

They also know that Edmonton represented their best chance to get a solid result on this tough road trip. Sometimes, you play teams that are in slumps (like the Oilers have been for most of the year). But, Calgary and Vancouver are certainly not having a tough time getting wins lately.

They know they were outplayed. They know that they cannot take penalties, because for a myriad of reasons, penalties are not getting killed.

They know that they cannot win games with 1 goal very often. They know that too often, 1 goal is all they are scoring in these games. And, they know that they turn to Richards most often when it is time to break out of a scoring slump. And #91 is not currently on this plane.

So, if you think that a message being sent to these guys is what is needed right now. I can assure you - they know what the message says. While this may be an annoyance for those who follow the team, for those on the team, this is all that they think about. They are aware that they had a dream season that was being built on their own belief and performance when very few people thought they could make the playoffs. And now, it is slipping through their grasp.

They know they need wins. They know they have blown a double-digit lead in the last 3 weeks in the race for the playoffs. They know that their division lead appears to be a memory at this juncture.

They know they must play with urgency. They know that those who are healthy must do more. And, they know that some guys who have never even played in the NHL before must now be counted upon to provide some reasonable performances to have a chance.

Being on the plane changes your perspective of a slump. You feel better knowing that it seems to be on their mind all of the time, but you also feel a bit worse because you see that they are giving everything they have and emptying their tanks on a nightly basis already – and it isn’t enough.

You see the frowns and the ice bags and the team stuck on a bus so that the coach can have a chance to visit with them before they board the plane to Calgary.

You see the soul searching and the sore bodies file past you to their seats. You see the coaches huddle up together and then pour over video to look for the secret that is eluding them right now.

Everyone is tireless in trying to get this fixed. But, the only guys who can change it are on this plane trying to recover for their next game in just a few hours.

They certainly know what they are up against.

The question is, “what can they do about it?”

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