What we once thought was merely an anomaly has now become a very disturbing trend.
The Dallas Stars are riding inside a snowball that is picking up speed as it hurls down the mountain, gaining negative momentum and size as it hurtles towards it's inevitable destination. It started with a painful loss to the Calgary Flames and since then the Stars have not only looked like a completely different team than what we had come to know over the course of 50 games, they apparently have no way of stopping this devastating slide.
Make no mistake: these losses have nothing to do with luck, or bad breaks in close games. No, these losses have everything to do with the complete anarchy that is apparently running rampant out on the ice for anyone in a Dallas Stars sweater.
Before Thursday night's matchup against the Boston Bruins, I felt that the losses to Calgary and Vancouver was merely a product of some untimely and poor goaltending and the fact that Vancouver is a damn good team. After watching that embarrassing debacle in Boston last night I'm convinced now that the Stars are staring disaster in the face, staring down a conclusion that everyone feared but no one truly thought possible: a collapse that would leave the Stars looking -- once more -- in from the outside when the playoffs begin.
Embarrassment. Shame. Broken pride. This is what the morning has brought us, while we all sit distracted by the debate over yet another head shot. Once that dust clears, however, the Stars face one hell of a daunting task...
The one thing that is the most bothersome about this impending collapse is the way the Stars approached last night's game against the Bruins. Steve Ott and Gregory Campbell decided to trade punches just seconds after the first puck was dropped. That was all well and good, with the Ott pounding Campbell in a decisive victory and supposedly setting a good tone for the Stars from that moment forward.
What happened next is unfathomable to me.
For some reason, Marc Crawford decided to send out his "enforcers" or "goons" or whatever it is that Barch and Sutherby might be at this point and two more fight began after the ensuing faceoffs. Three seconds of time gone by in the game, three fights. To make matters worse, both Sutherby and Barch were beaten down hard in each fight and Barch is now out for the game with an injury.
The Bruins would then score mere moments later once the game actually began. From there, the Stars skated around the ice like lost puppies with no direction, playing as if they had forgotten everything that had brought them to this point in the season. The Bruins waltzed to a 4-0 lead just halfway through the first period and the most embarrassing loss I can remember as a Stars fan was well on its way.
It's not about the score, or whether the Stars managed to actually make things interesting in the third period.
It's the fact that even after three fights and an insanely disastrous start to the game, Adam Burish decided he was going to fight as well because, well, he just felt like it apparently. Because when your team is down 4-1 in the second period, taking yourself out of the game for five minutes is exactly what your teammates need. Then, after deciding this would be your course of action, you get beat down so hard you end up on injured reserve the next day.
That fight is a perfect microcosm for the game last night and what we've seen from the Stars the past two weeks. Making the wrong decisions at the worst times in an effort to do something good, but which ultimate creates more pain for the team in the end.
It's tough to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with the Stars at this point, because right now it appears the answer would be "everything". The power play is lifeless, the penalty killing is useless, the defense is haggard and slow to react and the goaltending is porous. The forwards appear to be lost at times with the puck and can't finish clean passes and the effective way in which the defense and forwards supported each other on offense has been lost completely. Opposing teams are finding it much, much too easy to move the puck up ice on the Stars and the defense is leaving the goaltenders out to dry.
It's like the Stars are creating a DVD version of "How To Get Dominated In the NHL, For Dummies" and they've decided they'll be the stars of the show.
The snowball effect comparison is apt. We're seeing happen right in front of us, as each game is more and more disastrous than the one before it. While we thought the Stars had approached the game against Vancouver well, they slowly began to fall apart as the game progressed and that fracturing continued and carried over into Boston.
I don't know if I have ever seen a Dallas Stars team play such a poor period as I did last night in Boston. The players had no way of recovering and stopping the pounding they were receiving and Marc Crawford had no way to respond. The Stars did come out playing better in the second period and into the third, but you wonder just how a loss such as this will effect the team moving forward.
All season long we've marveled at the mental toughness of the Stars, how they lead the NHL in two-goal comebacks and have ways -- time and time again -- to recover from a poor start and then find a way to win the game in the end. Last night, we witnessed what happens with that mental toughness is all but gone and what is left is a team without confidence, without direction and is suddenly playing the worst hockey we've seen in nearly three seasons.
There are injuries that the Stars are dealing with right now that makes recovery extremely difficult. The Stars lost Adam Burish for at least a week, they're still without Jamie Benn and Tom Wandell and while you admire the fight of the young forwards coming up from the AHL, there is no knight on a white horse storming in to save the day.
The Dallas Stars are going to have to figure out some way to shake the cobwebs out from between their collective ears, get back in gear and get back to playing the hockey that was so successful for the team just two weeks ago. Watching that game last night, you wonder if that is even possible at this point. The fact remains, however, that the Stars must pull out of this tailspin as fast as possible or else face the disaster no one wanted to see yet everyone was dreading.
The Stars still hold on to the lead in the Pacific Division, but never before has the possibility of actually missing the playoffs felt so real as it does today. The team that took the ice last night in Boston will never win another game this season, let alone get into the playoffs.
The Stars must get back to being the team that they were before Calgary and before Vancouver or else the snowball will keep on rolling, picking up speed and momentum, carrying the Dallas Stars right along with it.