Remember yesterday how we talked about the Stars having a big chance to actually make some noise, to gain some ground in the Western Conference playoff race? With win last night, the Stars wouldn't have made a big jump but would have at least not fallen farther behind.
With the late game last night and another tonight, we're not going to do the traditional recap of what was ultimately a demoralizing loss. But before we can move on to tonight's game in Edmonton, there are a couple of notes to make about the 4-3 loss to Vancouver.
So how's that goaltending controversy? All of the focus this week has been on how the Stars turned to Alex Auld in light of poor play by Marty Turco. Since taking over as starter, Auld has had one pretty good start, one okay start and then one big stinker last night against the Canucks. If we're going to hold Turco to a high standard then we need to do the same with Auld. The same issues that have plagued Turco and the Dallas Stars all season long hit Auld last night, with a bad puck-handling gaffe leading to a late second period goal, then when the Stars needed the big saves the most he wasn't up to the task.
What's most frustrating about the goaltending was that the Stars in truth played about as good a road game as they could, especially considering the starters they're missing and how the Canucks were supposed to be a bad matchup. They fought back from an early 1-0 deficit, and once again the Stars showed more grit and determination than we've seen all season. Steve Ott was his normal sparkplug self, Toby Petersen continued his second-half offensive surge and the defensemen actually contributed on the scoreboard.
You have to think that the giveaway by Auld late in the second, just seconds after Burrows had a goal disallowed, was what broke this team. The game was there for the Stars to grab and run with it, as they were poised to take a 2-1 lead into the third, on the road, against a better opponent. Yet instead Auld literally handed the Canucks the momentum for the game and Dallas was never able to fully recover.
All in all you have to feel good about the positives the Stars are starting to show, four games in a row now. We've stated all season long that while losses hurt, it's progress and improvement we're ultimately looking for in season in which the team is obviously in a transition period. While the losses in Montreal and Vancouver hurts, especially considering both games were tied to start the third, we're finally starting to see a team on the ice.
And that's something to build on headed into Edmonton.
No word yet on who will be in net for the Dallas Stars, yet with the team playing on back to back nights and then playing again on Sunday, expect Marty Turco to return to the ice for the Stars. Auld's performance in an important road game leaves this team with about zero confidence in either of it's goaltenders (in my eyes at least), and could hasten a trade. But that's another discussion....
The key here is that the Edmonton Oilers are easily playing the worst hockey of any team in the NHL. The Oilers are 1-14-2 since December 15 and it's safe to say they are against the ropes.
This is the perfect opportunity for the Stars to get the 'road win monkey' off their backs, to regain the confidence they had built and then lost in the third period in Vancouver, and continue on the path they had started on with the two big wins in Dallas.
The Stars actually matchup very well with the Oilers, who are struggling heartily with the basic fundamentals of team hockey (sound familiar?) The Copper & Blue has a great breakdown of some of the worst defensive breakdowns the Oilers have had lately, exposing the weaknesses the Stars have the speed and skill to exploit.
Just like every game from here on out, the Stars are going to rely on Tom Wandell and Jamie Benn to somehow find a way to break out offensively. It's going to be tough sledding, especially with both players trying to find the way in their first full NHL seasons, yet the reality is the Stars can't wait for them to break out down the road; they need results immediately.
Just like with any game, a great effort and nice execution can be instantly negated by a defensive breakdown and bad goaltending. That is what we witnessed last night in Vancouver; it's been a long time since I've seen the Stars consistently sell out their bodies for big hits, big blocked shots and to play physical up and down the ice. They're pushing the puck hard into the offensive zone, they're overwhelming teams with a strong forecheck and they're making sound decisions on defense.
You can sense that the Stars are inching closer towards turning the corner on this season; for four games in a row (shocking!), they've looked like the team that Marc Crawford was hired to turn them into. The trick now is to find some way to temporarily fix the major holes that plague them and the chances are that won't happen until the trade deadline.
Goaltending and defense, the two staples of solid team hockey and two aspects this team struggles with the most. We had all hoped that Alex Auld could step in and at least play well enough for the Stars have a chance at a win; when the team needed him to buckle down the most he folded against the Canucks.
This isn't to say that the Auld As Starter Experiment should instantly end, just that our expectations should be tempered a bit. Tonight agains the Oilers the Stars have a chance to instantly rebound and bounce back from disappointing loss.
It won't be easy, playing two nights in a row on the road, but perhaps this Oilers team will provide the perfect foil for the Stars to work out their frustrations against.