The scene outside Defending Big D headquarters this morning. And it's still snowing.
It's an interesting mood Dallas sports fans are in this morning. As the holidays approach, the feeling among us all has shifted a bit from where we were just 24 hours prior. Apprehension, worry and a lingering sense of foreboding was creeping into our psyche as the feeling that the season was creeping into seriously disappointing territory grew.
Dallas Cowboys 24, New Orleans Saints 17
I understand that not every Stars fan is a Cowboys fan, but for this writer the two teams live side by side in my heart. I have lived and breathed the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Stars for nearly my entire life and I find that at times my health, attitude and well-being are adversely affected by these two sports teams. Lately I've tried my best to distance my emotions from the outcomes of the games and I've been doing a pretty decent job of turning off the television after another loss and just...moving on. Business as usual. Yesterday, however, was the first time all season that I have jumped out my chair, punching the air and screaming like a banshee after a Stars goal. All while chatting on ESPN.
While the parallels between yesterday's two big wins aren't exactly on the same level of magnitude, I cannot express to you how big the victory over the Red Wings was for this team. After the jump, some thoughts not only on yesterday's game but on the near-future of the Dallas Stars, some trade talk, and further musing on the financial status of the team.
It's tough to say that the win yesterday over the Red Wings was 'season saving', but it certainly kept the Stars from falling into a fairly significant hole in the Western Conference standings. As it stands now:
|5||Los Angeles Kings||47|
|8||Detroit Red Wings||41|
The Stars kept themselves right where they wanted to be after a severely disappointing road trip where they gained nor lost much in the standings. Yet after winning just one of their past six games, including one demoralizing effort against basement-dwelling Carolina, the Stars were in danger of falling into the abyss. Starting with Detroit, the Stars were beginning one hell of a tough stretch of games, all against Western Conference and teams and all but one against teams above them in the standings. To start with a loss would have put the Stars back in 10th place in the division and four points out of 8th; not insurmountable, but the loss could have set off one hell of a bomb. The Stars would have lost four straight and would be trying to get their act together against some of the toughest competition they've faced all season. A loss yesterday could have been the spark that effectively ended the Dallas Stars season before it was halfway over.
Now, the win doesn't absolve the Stars of future failure. They could lose four straight and find themselves down int the hole anyway. Yet the win over the Red Wings put a temporary salve of a bubbling wound and gave the Stars a reprieve from all of the questions and doubts that had started to infect every aspect of the team.
What was most enlightening about the game yesterday was how it was finally a complete 60 minute effort from the entire team. Marc Crawford didn't do anything crazy with the lines, yet the team came out with more determination and resolve than I've seen all season. Sure, we've witnessed some good starts before but that usually faded as the game wore on. Yesterday, the Stars not only responded from an early 1-0 deficit at the first intermission, but they also won the second period and evened the game up with a couple of huge goals by James Neal. The big goal by Karlis Skrastins a little over a minute into the third period set the Stars up to have one of their better defensive efforts with a lead this season. There were some tense moments, but the Stars held the Red Wings to just six shots on net and didn't allow Pavel Datsyuk to continue to skate all over them like he had done in the first 40 minutes.
Maxime Fortunus had a solid NHL debut and we saw what he's done for most of his career in the AHL; play an intelligent and physical game without being flashy. He had a couple of nifty clears of the puck from around the crease, covered his side of the net perfectly and overall didn't make many mistakes. He started off paired with Jeff Woywitka but as it became apparent that Matt Niskanen was having yet another terrible game, Crawford put him with Karlis Skrastins and the Stars suddenly had two pairs of shutdown defensemen. In fact, Fortunus finished with four more minutes of ice time than Woywitka and Niskanen, even seeing significant time on the penalty kill. He's not your average NHL rookie blueliner and he's going to be very solid for the Stars while they deal with the injuries to Mark Fistric and Trevor Daley.
The best part of this game that I took away was the Stars undying resolve to never give up; they counter-punched all game long and were able to overcome some seriously shoddy goaltending miscues. Marty Turco had one of the most schizophrenic games he's had a a Dallas Star, making several incredible "how did he do that?" saves and then turning around and allowing two of his softest goals of the season. His failed clearing attempt was laughable, yet it speaks to the confidence he has when playing the puck. Unfortunately, he swung and missed and the Red Wings had themselves an easy tap in goal.
Yet it was the horrendous attempt at a save on Pavel Datsyuk's goal that could have been the back-breaker. The Stars had just scored two goals in the second period to take a 2-1 lead and Turco allowed a goal on what could only be described as a 40mph changeup. Now, they gave the goal to Datsyuk because I'm guessing he touched it, but replays showed that Bertuzzi's off-speed pass barely changed direction if at all before slipping between Turco's pads. Now whether Turco was bracing for Datsyuk to receive the pass and make amove is unknown, but the genesis of the play was the simple fact that Turco's stick was nowhere close to being in position. Keeping the paddle square and on the ice would have been enough.
In a game like this, with the Stars playing so well and able to come back and take the lead in the second period, allowing a goal of that nature in unacceptable. I've been the biggest supporter of Marty Turco over the years and I still stand behind him, but allowing goals like that leads to lost confidence from the fans and you wonder if it affects the team at all. It seems every game one aspect of the Stars' team falls apart and lately the goaltending has been incredibly suspect after pretty much playing well all season long.
With Turco allowing a couple more soft goals yesterday, the murmurs among the fans and elsewhere started to rise again about the possibility of trading Turco. My stance on this situation is still the same as it was last week; the Stars aren't trading Marty Turco as long as they are within spitting distance of a playoff spot. The team believes that Turco is the guy for the rest of this season and despite his recent struggles he's still the best option for this team at this time. Some state that the Stars need to get value for Turco before he potentially departs via free agency, but it's impossible to say if there's even a slight chance the Stars can maintain the same level of goaltending we have now, even with their struggles. Who on the open market is as good as Turco? Which teams are willing to take on his salary and able to give up the value the Stars deserve for trading a top 10 goaltender?
More importantly, which players in the Stars system are you ready to hand over the reigns to? Do you have faith that Alex Auld can hold the fort for the rest of the season, and is there any of the Stars' prospects able to step up and take the job? If Turco leaves, whether via trade or free agency, the Stars are going to have some short-term issues at goaltender on their hands. You're not going to be able to secure the young players this team has that they desperately need to keep, you're not going to be able to acquire a big defensemen and you're not going to get a top-flight goaltender all in the same summer. Not with this team's financial situation.* Is your best option right now to lock up Turco on a two-year deal and allow him to play with either Matt Climie, Richard Bachman or Brent Krahn under him (and Climie and Krahn's contract aren't very long either) and then hand over the team to them? Tyler Beskorowany is on his way as well, but he's two to three years away from the NHL, at least.
*I understand that Stars fans are hoping that a sale of the Texas Rangers is going to suddenly free up cash, but this team won't feel any effects of the sale until next season, best scenario. Expect the Stars to operate with a budget until Tom Hicks gets everything straightened out, and there are more, longer-term, pressing needs on this team than an expensive goaltender free agent.
So now the Stars have confidence and their goal scoring back (4.0 goals-per game the past week) and are embarking on a tough stretch of games, continuing tomorrow night with San Jose. They got the easy part out of the way with a big home win over the hated Red Wings; now comes the hard part. For this team to truly get past this 35 game funk they've been in ever since the season started, they have to find a way to win multiple games in a row. San Jose comes next, and the Sharks are trying to get over their own miniature slump.
I'm expected to see and hear a raucous AAC crowd on Monday night.
I'm also expecting to do some big fist pump, air punches.