Through four games, the Dallas Stars were perfect. They were 4-0-0, on top of the Western Conference and it seemed that no matter what adversity they faced the Stars would find a way to win the game. This was the Stars team we had been waiting for, this was the team that played aggressive and took advantage of scoring chances and allowed their goaltender to actually win them some games.
The Stars team that allowed adversity to overcome them, that allowed too many late-period and late-game goals, that never could win a game in overtime or the shootout? That team was gone. Here was a team with players rededicated to playing for each and for their coach, becoming a much tougher team to play against physically while taking advantage of each and every scoring opportunity that occurred throughout the game.
Of course, we all knew it was a bit too good to be true. We all knew that the 4-0-0 record was a bit of a facade. Because despite the perfect record, the Dallas Stars are far from a perfect team.Before we start focusing on all the issues that are currently plaguing the Stars, let's be clear with one thing: this is a better team that last season. Already the Stars have improved upon what they were as a team last season, with better goaltending and a much more dangerous scoring lineup. Perhaps because the team overall has improved and because the team was actually winning the tough games; that's why the imperfections stand out as much as they do.
Or perhaps it's because as good as the Stars have been, when things have gone bad they've absolutely horrendously horrible.
The Dallas Stars, for whatever reason, cannot execute a penalty kill. This lack of an ability to stop teams while on the power play, combined with a lack of an ability to actually stay out of the penalty box, has led to the Stars not only allowing a grossly high amount of goals while on the penalty kill but also allow a grossly high amount of shots per game.
The Stars found out last night that Kari Lehtonen cannot bail them out of every game. Despite allowing nine goals across two games, Lehtonen still has an outstanding ,921 save percentage and a respectable 2.91 goals-against average. There's is no way you could blame the loss on the goaltending and it's likely the only reason the Stars have won four games is because of Lehtonen. That's a dangerous game to play and it's one that finally caught up to the Stars on Monday night.
Out of 15 goals allowed on the season, ten have come while the Stars were on the penalty kill.
What's frustrating is that the despite these issues with killing off penalties, the Stars can't seem to stay out their own way. The best way to not allow any power play goals against is to stay out of the box, yet the Stars continue to put themselves in a bad position by committing multiple inexcusable and dumb mistakes throughout each game.
Roughing. Elbowing. Delay of game. Cross-checking. All penalties that will come at one point or another throughout a game or a season, yet continuing to commit them multiple times each game shows a lack of concentration and perhaps a bit of an overzealous attitude. This also shows that one of the problems the Stars struggled with last season has certainly not gone away this season either: the Stars struggle with speedy teams.
The Stars are not a fast team. Despite the addition of Adam Burish, the Stars are filled with forwards that a big, physical and skilled -- but certainly not speedy. This creates issues for the Stars while backchecking or trying to compete with some of the more speedier teams in the NHL, as the Stars continuously find themselves out of position and committing penalties to try and stop scoring chances. The hooking, the grabbing, all signs of a team struggling with being out of position at the worst moments throughout a game.
The worst problem facing this team -- the penalty kill -- is a combination of every issue by the Stars all magnified into one two-minute snapshot during a game. The inability to clear the puck, the inability to win the battles along the boards, the maddening ability of the Stars to constantly be out of position; all create nothing by trouble once the team is down a man on the ice. Kari Lehtonen is a great goaltender but he's not being given a chance by the team in front of him: too many shots are making it through traffic and too many shots are making through screens in front of the net.
The good news is that there is plenty of time to turn this around. The Stars have proven to be a proud team that is actually buying into what their coaches are preaching this season and you have to feel that despite some of the problems from the first four games an embarrassing loss on the road would be enough to really open some eyes in the locker room. It's all mental with this team right now and while the shortcomings on defense will plague the Stars all season long, mental mistakes are the sort that are completely inexcusable.
Don't chase the puck, don't get out of position and don't create more opportunities for the opposition by committing dumb penalties throughout each game. The Stars still have the potential to be a damn good team this season and one loss isn't going to change that.
Yet how this team responds against the Florida Panthers and how this team responds moving forward will expose the true potential the Dallas Stars possess.