Before we get to a more lengthy analysis of last night's game against Columbus and look ahead to Boston, I wanted to share a few brief thoughts on something very specific.
The Dallas Stars are an inconsistent team, which is usually the mark of a team fighting mediocrity and "being average". While this sounds harsh, this is actually about where we should expect this team to be this season and anything better than average is actually a great thing.
Consider the fact that the Stars have one of the lowest payrolls in the NHL with just above $51 million of a current salary cap hit. They are technically 5th from the bottom with several other teams riding that $51 million curve as well. What's interesting is that the Stars are neck and neck with two other teams in the same situation -- Nashville and Anaheim -- and many of the teams at the bottom of the conference, way behind in fact, have significantly higher payrolls.
Here's the actual reality, however -- take away Sean Avery's $2 million cap hit and the Stars officially have the lowest payroll in the NHL.
Now, we've seen throughout sports history that a higher payroll does not equate success. But having an undermanned team in hockey, specifically on defense, can get you exposed against bigger and more talented teams.
What teams like the Stars and Predators are attempting to do is to make the postseason with grit and hustle -- essentially outplaying those more talented teams. The two are consequently neck and neck right now in the standings, both fighting for those final positions in the West.
What's been frustrating to see, and plainly obvious, is that when that emotional drive is taken away the Stars lack the firepower or defensive depth to overcome a lack of drive. It happens to every team throughout the course of a season and it happens more than once; the great teams are able to overcome bad nights because of depth and individual performances.
What's amazing is what happens with the Stars when their emotions run high and they play at a high pace with more physicality -- and that's something to be worried about facing a game against Boston on New Year's Eve.
To be fair, the Stars and the coaches feel that last week's game against Philadelphia was not an example of their emotions getting the better of them. I equated that loss to several others we've seen over the past few years where the Stars were taking on a marquee team and wanted to really throw the physical gauntlet at them and in the process watched goals being scored while they focused on hitting and fighting.
What's been interesting to see is that in the three games following that loss to Philadelphia the Stars have played a near-emotionless game. The 6-3 win against Nashville was marred by poor defensive coverage and turnovers and was overall a sloppy affair from both teams; what was encouraging was how the Stars were able to create space offensively and explode with six goals against a good team.
Against the Blues and Blue Jackets, however, the Stars once again fell victim to offensive issues. While the Stars made a late push against the Blues both games were marred by a complete lack of drive or emotion; something that's disturbing with the Stars all season focusing on being a "pesky" team that is "hard to play against". Understanding that it's hard to keep that emotion up each game, this team needs to understand that it's that emotion that really drives this team's ability to win games.
The key here is to not go overboard and to find a balance. With a big, loud crowd in the stands and the defending Cup Champions in town you know the Stars are going to be amped up for this game. What they absolutely cannot afford to do is to lose control, however slight, and allow the Bruins -- or any other team -- to take advantage of the emotional aspect of this Stars team.
The Stars are undermanned and missing two significant pieces on defense. It's obvious the Stars are struggling with defensive coverage right now and it's affecting all other aspects of their game. It's not just the lack of emotion that is costing the Stars lately, but it's certainly a factor.
The goal is to find that emotion and show some "kick ass" mentality in the dull games and to not let that emotion overrun them in the big games. Tomorrow will be an ultimate test of that mentality.