Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Bag of Pucks - April 8 - 4 Games To Go

Pretty much everything that could be said about this thing has already been said.  This hockey team, brand new in so many ways, is trying to quiet its history and make it into the Western Conference playoffs.  But, to do so, they have to play their best hockey at the very end of the season - something they have not done in many years.  And, they are trying to do so against a team in the Phoenix Coyotes that has had their number since the Stars fired Dave Tippett back in 2009.

So, if historical trends are how you make your wagers, you would still fancy the Coyotes.

But, if you believe in computer simulations and statistical models that are free of historical bias, you think the Stars have a 74% likelihood.

I guess we are going to have to settle this on the ice.  And here is what remains:

Game # Dallas (87) Phx (86)
79 Tue - NSH Tue - At Clb
80 Wed - CLB Thu -At Nsh
81 Fri  -  STL Sat - SJ
82 Sun - At Phx Sun - DAL

As you can see, the likelihood of Game #82 on Sunday at 8pm being for all of the marbles and the final playoff spot is still very high.  This seems to have been looming on the horizon for the last few months, and it certainly feels like destiny suggests that it might come down to the final game, period, or even turn in a shootout.


This could have been easier, but of course, it never actually is.  They do things the hard way and although we may like to act like they have some active choice in the equation, the fact is that we often forget a very important component in this formula; they are a team that has weaknesses.

Therefore, under that truth, if a team is good, but not great this is what you get.  Exciting and flawed. Young and inexperienced.  They then will do what this team does - play well enough to win games against Boston, St Louis, Chicago, and the powers of the NHL.  And then turn around and lose games to Calgary, the New York Islanders, and Florida when you have a 2-goal lead in a game that you simply cannot allow yourself to lose.  

To lose that game Sunday in Florida after the win on Saturday at Tampa Bay was simply this team in a nutshell. They are so promising and exciting, and yet, they also are still some substantial pieces away from having all of their bases covered.  They still are highly leveraged on the top players on their roster to cover any flaws they have below.  

That has been lost in all of this, because we want to believe that we can just take the elevator to the top floor from the basement because now we have Tyler Seguin and friends to dig this thing out of its ditch.  And yes, the new recruits have been a fantastic foundation, but we cannot forget that there are still some things that the team is trying to manage through that is not ideal.  

They are a team that is learning a lot about themselves as they go.  They are seeing guys emerge through adversity and necessity that are climbing to newer heights.  The defense corps is where I always point when I talk about improvement, but before they play this final week, I thought we should talk about a few reasons why they are still on the verge of their first post-season in 6 years:

Alex Goligoski - I have not witnessed a more polarizing player in a Stars uniform in quite some time amongst the hard core Stars' fans.  In fact, to say polarizing is to argue that there are some that say he is fantastic and that is actually not true.  It seems that everyone generally agrees he is very poor at his job.  But is he?  

After Jamie Benn and Seguin, Goligoski is the Stars' leading scorer.   He is on the ice more than any player and it isn't really even close - over 240 minutes more than anyone else on the team.  He is their leading ice guy on the power play from defense and their leading penalty killer on the entire roster.  He has taken 2,166 shifts for this team when only Brenden Dillon is over 2,000 (2,006).  In other words, he has been run into the ground and played as hard as anybody could be played.  He has had plenty of moments where he has not looked like a Norris trophy winner, but when you consider the exhaustion level and leverage placed on him, despite his defensive limitations, hopefully you can understand what he is dealing with.  And yet, about 5 times a week, somebody emails or tweets me to ask if the Stars could just cut him.  Defensive zone play is not his specialty, but given the issues on the roster, he is the least objectionable option.  This team will be ready to contend when they don't need to ask Alex Goligoski to solve every issue they have (and Trevor Daley, for that matter), but that day isn't here, so turning on the guys who are trying to fix the issues is not the answer.  Getting better answers in here is the ultimate way to fix it.  But, for now, if you don't at least appreciate a thing or two about what he has done this season, then I think you are blinded by your previous conclusions.

Jordie Benn - I write about this team an awful lot, but I have hardly ever spent words on Jordie Benn.  I don't know why, but he just has never seemed like a guy that I needed to spend much time on.  That is my previous conclusions causing me sight problems.  You see, when Jamie Benn was starting to become a thing around here, the Allen Americans employed his brother.  I saw that as an act of convenience or perhaps even doing the Benn family a solid.  Honestly, I didn't know nor care that much about the arrangement because I knew that the Stars had a superstar who had a brother who also played hockey at a high level - just not high enough to be in the NHL.  

Well, that was 5 years ago.  And then with all the speed of a glacier, Benn's career has slowly but surely gone from an independent league castaway to an effective NHL regular.  I can't explain how it happened, but the 26 year old has now become a no-brainer when the lineup card is posted and has allowed himself a real career with hard work and a surprising amount of talent with the puck.  He has 20 points and is a +17, despite not really having a consistent playing partner for large swaths of his run, and has just proved to be reliable and gritty.  I have no idea where his road will lead him, nor do I know if he will be a regular here in 2 seasons, but for now, this team is only in this spot because of performances like the one they have received from Jordie Benn.  He has really been important to this haul.


This is a team that has worked hard to get here and one that will give it all they have on the way in.  If they win their 3 home games, there is a real chance that Sunday won't matter.  But, Nashville is playing great, Columbus is playing for their playoff lives (and will start the game ahead, 1-0), and St Louis is annoyed about the last few meetings with Dallas as well as a statement opportunity for a potential playoff matchup.  

This home stand could be most unpleasant and given how the Stars never do things the easy way, expect a few more turns in the road.  

But we are finally here.  Nothing we can say will have any bearing on the outcome.  It is all up to those 20 men in the Stars' room.

4 to go.  

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