It's always tough to analyze each hockey game individually and not get caught up in the up and down nature of an 82-game season. It seems that -- especially this year -- our emotions have been manipulated too many times to count, as we rejoice a big win then turn angry over a frustrating loss.
With last night's loss to the St. Louis Blues, the team's first game without Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro, we witnessed a Dallas Stars game that encompassed nearly every emotion of the season all in one 60 minute span. On one hand, it was great to see the hard work, energy and team atmosphere displayed by the Dallas Stars and on the other, it was immensely frustrating to see several golden chances squandered en route to a one-goal loss.
With Benn and Ribeiro, the top two centers on a team that was already short at that position, the Stars lost their playmakers -- the guys on the ice that create offense for those around them. While the Stars did well to hold serve against one of the toughest teams to play in the NHL in their own building, to see them come so close yet fall just short again went beyond frustration.
Time is running out for this team to maintain control of their postseason fate and every game that ends with zero points in the standings is another nail in the coffin of the chances of missing the postseason. While the loss in and of itself was frustrating, the hope is that taking on one of the top teams in the league and playing their hearts out will carry over as the team learns how to play without Benn and Ribeiro.
"We got into position to have some success," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "We got it into a next goal wins game, but it just wasn't us that got it. Otherwise, we battled hard."
"I like the work ethic," Gulutzan continued. "We didn't create a whole ton, but we worked hard. I thought both goalies were very good. Ours was very good. We didn't test Halak as much. He made a breakaway save that could have been a changer. When goalies make those ones, it makes a big difference."
The Stars, on the back of a brilliant performance by Kari Lehtonen, were able to contain the Blues attack for most of the game. With the Stars missing two very important pieces of their offense, there's little choice for Gulutzan but to turn his team into an even bigger grinding, gritty team than they were before. The Stars, wanting to be known as "hard to play against", will have to live by that mantra for the next two weeks if they have any hopes of coming out of the All-Star break still alive for the postseason.
"We have to play this way, we have no other choice," Gulutzan said. "If we deviate from this, we don't have Ribs and Benny and that kind of offense to bail you out."
The Stars were unable to create much offense, going against one of the stingier defensive teams in hockey. That the Stars weren't able to score a goal wasn't exactly surprising yet they weren't without their chances, especially early in the game when the Stars took their attack to the Blues before Hitchcock adjusted. Loui Eriksson was the recipient of an excellent choice and the Stars had a shorthanded breakaway as well, but as it happens when a team is struggling offensively neither puck found the back of the net.
What's more apparent than anything after the loss to the Blues was just how important Benn and Ribeiro were to the players around them. While Eriksson is certainly a great forward, he needs a center that is able to help create space and move the puck. Michael Ryder is struggling lately as it's obvious he's pressing too hard to try and pick up the offensive slack and Brenden Morrow was nowhere to be found for most of the game.
As the Stars look to make a quick turnaround and face the Detroit Red Wings tonight, they absolutely must continue to play the hard working game that Gulutzan was raving about last night. Against Detroit, just like St. Louis, hard work won't be nearly enough against a team that is capable of scoring four goals a game blindfolded. This is a talented, structured team that will exploit any weaknesses -- something that happened just a few weeks back against this same Red Wings team.
"When you're missing a couple of good players, you have to work hard, try to eliminate penalties, and try to score a couple of goals," said Kari Lehtonen. "Everything else was great but the outcome. We didn't get the points."
Once again, the Stars were also victimized by their anemic power play and the inability to cash in on the chances afforded them. With the offense as a whole having to withdraw into a shell a bit in order to protect the ice defensively, not scoring with the man-advantage will hurt this team even more than before.
On one hand, it was great to see the energy and competitiveness needed for the Stars to get through this rough patch in the season. On the other, it was frustrating to see an offense that will be hungry for any goals whatsoever not take advantage of their opportunities -- something that has become a trend over the course of the season.
The hard work, the gritty nature of the Stars attack and gameplan -- it's the only option for this team right now. Hopefully, by the time Benn and Ribeiro return, the Stars would have taken advantage of those chances and not lead their playoff dreams fade away.