The Stars were 7-2-2 in December on the 22nd. They had staked a partial claim of first place and were enjoying a four game win streak. I was doing projection math that told me they needed to play quite mediocre the rest of the way to grab a playoff spot. Everyone in Stars-land was riding quite high.
Then somehow the month ended at 8-5-3.They collected only three of the last ten points available to them and the sour dismount to what was a fun month leaves us in the mood to do a December autopsy rather than celebrate the new year. Happy Holidays, indeed.
So what happened in those last five games? The short answer is probably that the special teams were simply not good enough.
|Opponent||PP Goals For||PP OPPs||PP Goals Against||PP OPPs Against|
Notice here also that the Stars are generally not earning as many chances as their opposition has been. Belly ache about the officiating all you like but you earn your PP chances, whether they call the more egregious fouls or the ticky tack ones immediately following to seemingly make up for it. (Make up calls? They don't do that!)
66% penalty killing isn't going to get it done. Despite the brilliance of Schneider in the Canuck net last night, you'd like to think that another kill or two would have changed the game quite a bit in the second period beyond just keeping the score close.
The power play connected against Vancouver but it was needed in the Red Wing game. If the Stars get a power play goal in the third period with the score still close it's likely they pull a point or two there and we're talking about how they have 50 points on New Years Day no matter what happened last night. "Hooray and hurrah".
Not so much...
(Lot's of crazy ranting after the jump...)
The goaltending probably could have been a little better, particularly in the Detroit game, but it's not the reason they lost games to, pardon my rudeness but, "lesser teams" to this point in the year in Calgary and Phoenix. In their four losses to end the month they managed 1.5 goals per game and in the game they did win they needed a three goal third period to pull it out. People will talk about playing Raycroft more but he's not scoring any goals.
Earlier in the year we talked about their bad starts and propesnity to be badly outplayed while winning games and said "They can't keep doing this." Then this week they dominated the Red Wings and Vancouver for large stretches, out-chancing and out-shooting them both and got no points to show for it. Almost makes you wish the Preds would smack them around for 40 more minutes before the Stars pull out another win like on Tuesday.
"Out-playing" a team is hollow without results.
Their odd tendency to lose when they out-shoot and out-play opponents continues after 45-22 and 31-26 out-shootings of VAN and DET, respectively. Having the Preds pelt them with 46 shots was somehow a recipe for victory and in the only other game during this stretch they pulled a point, Calgary out-shot them 33-16. Naturally, they out-shot Phoenix 30-25 while getting shutout.
So as fans I suppose we should hope for a 50-22 flogging in the shot department tomorrow but a good PK?
I think those stretches of good play against the Canucks and Red Wings can present encouragement but also open the door for pretty damaging doubt and frustration. At the second intermission we marveled at how the Stars were dominating the Wings 5-on-5. Then they out chance and out play the Canucks generally, but lose 4-1. They can take something positive from that if it's handled right but they also carry that frustration with them on the plane this afternoon to St. Louis. It's right back on the ice tomorrow and sometimes when a team is in a bad way, the only thing that can stop it is a magnificent goaltending performance or a couple of early bounces that create instant confidence. Either would be welcome but probably a little surprising tomorrow.
After having faced Detroit and Vancouver, the schedule must surely relent, right?
The Blues enter tomorrow having won five in a row. Then it's on to Chicago where the Stars were man-handled easily by the Hawks in early December. The Rangers, who are a stellar 13-6-0 on the road wait back at home on Friday. Those 13 road wins are a league high, btw. Nothing easy is coming their way.
It's gut check time. The first half of the year was fun and they've put themselves in a competitive position but they still have to capitalize on it. January and February is where teams "make hay" in this league. The newness of the season has worn off. Teams are tired. Sometimes it's hard to get up for Edmonton on a Tuesday in January. The race to the finish in March is still pretty far away.
These are the dog days, as it were, and maintaining focus on the little details of their game is the only way to keep pushing forward. Dallas has said all along that they're not going to beat anyone on skill or finesse alone. The details have to be there every game. Details like penalty killing. January presents a lighter schedule and more practice time to get their game back in line.
It's up to them to execute and wash this bitter taste out of all our mouths.