Let's break this down, shall we?
The Dallas Stars are now 7-4-6 after 17 games. That's not bad, and much better than last season (6-8-3).
The Stars have 20 points, good for 6th in the Western Conference. Not bad, and much better than last season (14th in the West).
The Stars allowing 2.82 goals per game, 15th in the NHL. That's ok, but much better than last season at this point (3.64 goals per game).
The Stars are scoring 3.18 goals per game, 8th in the NHL. That's pretty good and better than last season (2.82).
Seeing a trend here?
The Dallas Stars have been good this season, sometimes great. They've played some complete, tough games against good teams on the road. We've seen some incredible goaltending at times and an offense that can quickly put goals in the net, not to mention an insane amount of shots on goal. The Stars have shown determination and grit while learning a new system under a new coaching staff and have shown that they have the potential to really do some great things on the ice, especially with the number of young forwards the Stars have.
Brad Richards has emerged as the best player on the ice for the Stars and is finally embracing his role as a leader in the locker. Brenden Morrow can't do it all himself and it's starting to look like the pressure is off him a bit to be Superman and he can just get back to being himself. Marty Turco is playing the best he's played in a very long time, and only seems to be gaining more confidence each night. The penalty killing unit has started to get it's feet underneath it and is no longer the liability it was early in the season.
So why is this team so frustratingly inconsistent?
The Stars have won two straight games just once this season, a trend that goes all the way back to March of last season. It's two steps forward, one step back for the Dallas Stars nearly every game as it seems to be that just as the Stars are gaining momentum and getting comfortable in their skates, they hit some adversity they can't overcome.
Last night's game was a good example of this. I didn't think the Stars played bad, and it certainly wasn't a clunker of an effort like we've seen before. But a couple of early penalties put them in a hole they could never completely climb out of, despite eventually tying the game.
"We knew it was going to be a tough go tonight. We got off to a shaky start in the first, but we climbed our way back into the game and did some good things in the second to give us a chance at it," Mike Modano said after the game.
The Stars were going strong in the second period, but Grossman unfortunately knocked the puck in on his own net while doing his best to cover the back end of the net. It wasn't as egregious as the own goal that Eriksson scored off of Nick Shultz earlier in the game, but it killed all of the momentum the Stars had built and gave it right back to the Wild.
The Stars could just never muster a big push in the third period, especially when a Modano penalty negated an early power play.
"We got some penalty problems and discipline issues where we let them get to us, and we were playing catch up for most of the third," said Modano.
So what led to the Stars playing such an up and down game a night after dominating the Canucks at home? Was it the travel and the inability to put any fresh legs on the ice?
Perhaps it was the fact that the team had to adjust to Alex Auld being in net on a quick turnaround; we've talked about the differences between Turco and Auld and how they move the puck and it's obvious the defense has trouble getting to used to the differing styles. We didn't see the big mixups along the boards that have plagued the Stars the last couple of times Auld has started, but it still took the team a while to start cleanly moving the puck in transition. By that time the Stars were down 2-0.
That being said, while we would have liked to have seen Turco back in net after playing so well the night before the Stars are intent on sticking to their plan in net and that's a good thing. We need Turco healthy and rested not just now but in March as well, when the schedule becomes brutal teams are fighting for playoff positioning.
Mike Heika has some good thoughts on the inconsistency with the Stars, and says that the fire the team showed after Morrow's bogus diving penalty is good for the Stars:
So I am locked onto that series of plays near the end of the second period where Brenden Morrow took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for shooting the puck into Minnesota's net as a reaction to what he believed was a a very bad diving call, and Marc Crawford compounded the situation by getting a bench minor for abuse of officials that put the Stars down two men not long after.
Personally, I loved both penalties. I felt calling Morrow for a dive was ridiculous. On the play, Brent Burns had his thigh behind Morrow's legs pushing the legs forward and then pulled his stick across Morrow's neck, pulling it back. It was the perfect high-low football block. He literally picked him up and threw him down. To call a dive on that (especially in the wake of the terribly wrong Nick Grossman delay of game call from Calgary on Wednesday) just shows how bad the officiating in the NHL can be. Morrow should have been mad, he should have taken the additional unsportsmanlkike conduct penalty, and his teammates should have been happy to kill all of it off.
Crawford got whistled for harping at officials on a no-call where Mike Modano was held a few seconds later, and I loved to see that emotion from the fiery coach there, as well. I would have been even happier if Crawford would have let the refs have it on the Morrow call, but I was just happy to see some of the old Crawford come out.
I think we've all been waiting for Crawford to finally let loose, and last night was the first time we saw him get truly riled up behind the bench. One thing I've thought has been missing from the Stars this season was a "don't mess with us" attitude, one that shows that is a team and not just a group of really talented hockey players. It doesn't necessarily have to entail big hits and fights, but at least show some anger when things start going against you and you start to really stick up for each other.
So, is this a loss that the team builds on and gels more as a team? Perhaps, but that's what we were hoping for after the Calgary loss. Yet what we haven't seen is the Stars really come together on a consistent basis night in and night out and be a true team from the top of the roster to the bottom. Despite the loss, we started to see signs of that last night and have been for a few games now. The Stars are still in good shape in the standings and can afford a slight misstep or two, and have done enough good things this season to say that this team has a pretty high ceiling they can reach.
It's not all bad and Stars fans have plenty to be proud of and feel good about moving forward. The Stars are still adjusting to a new system and a new coach and the signs are there that the team is on the cusp of truly grasping this new approach. All we're looking forward to is a little consistency.