The word "listless" is one we've seen used on a few different sites this morning to describe the Stars play last night. They were excited for this game, they had family and friends coming, there were lots of scouts and media... and they got off to yet another bad start.
Brad Richards told the media after the game "You're not just going to turn switches on in the NHL and score three or four to get back into games. We got what we deserved tonight. We weren't really in the game from the start. We have to address it and work on our starts."
A spirited Krys Barch fight in the opening minutes of the game seemed to signal that the Stars were about to turn on the old charm in Toronto. Impassioned, penalty filled games with big hits and lots of hatred have been the norm in recent weeks and here I thought the Stars were signaling more of the same. I couldn't have been more wrong.
The "listlessness" of the evening can be easily defined by looking at the penalties taken the rest of the game: One minor for the Stars, two minors for the Leafs. No venom. No "be hard to play against," and modest hit totals for both teams are deceitful after such an emotionless outing.
Dallas has used fights, big hits, and agitation to great effect this season but when it all comes down to it you have to score first. It's a cliche as old as the game itself but look at the win totals for the league when scoring first. The Stars are 8-2. Their next opponent, the Senators, are 8-1. Only ONE team in the league has a sub-.500 points percentage when scoring first (Sorry Atlanta).
They've survived some of these flat starts to pull points, but it's living dangerously. Kari Lehtonen said last night that "It's still early."
It's really not...
19 games in is a very strong sample size and if you buy that "you are who you are" by December, then the Stars are days away from being a 12th place team.
But, as we said a lot last season, "There's still time" (I was kind of hoping we wouldn't have to dust that one off before Thanksgiving, particularly after a 5-1 start.)
Brandon mentioned last night that stat-crunching isn't necessary when trying to figure out what's going wrong. The eye ball test told everyone what they needed to know last night and when you drag stats into it it's even more maddening. The Stars were dominated by the Leafs in the first period last night and quite a bit more by the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night. How many shots did each team register in those opening frames?
12. No, not 12 each. 12 total. Five for the Avalanche and seven for the Maple leafs, yet each team took momentum and a one goal lead with them into the first intermission break. It's a far cry from the 17 shots the Ducks put on the Stars in the first period in Anaheim a couple of weeks ago but the results are the same. These hard starts are difficult to quantify. (Though if anyone wants to figure out the CORSI numbers by game and period I'd like to see it...)
The name of the game is "Score first, or lead heading into the third period," and the Stars can't do either one right now. 21 teams in the league have either one or zero victories when trailing after two periods. The Stars only win after trailing in the second intermission was against the Sharks the other night.
The league mark when trailing after two is 28-181-22 (.168), and that's why the point against Colorado after being down 3-0 felt like such a win.
What can they do to get leads in these games? Start with the power play, or in the case of last night, start with earning some power plays. The Stars had only two last night because they didn't earn any. There were no contentious puck battles. There were no odd-man rushes. There was no speed or tenacity that forced bad decisions. Their 3.7% road PP is troubling, but they need more than two opportunities a game to get it right.
These slow starts are microcosms of the last several seasons over all. We make excuses until it's too late, not realizing it was too late a while back. Win tomorrow night in Ottawa and a .500 road trip doesn't sound so bad. Lose, and it's 5 in a row on the road with non-existent offense and history repeating itself with vengeful accuracy.