Monday mornings always seem like a natural time to take a step back from the schedule and the grind of every day life in the busy National Hockey League and say "what's the big picture here?". With the natural line of demarcation approaching in the form of the All-Star break this week you can be assured that everyone in the league will be doing just that, taking stock of where they are, and how far left they have to go.
For fans of the Dallas Stars, such a line of thought reveals deep issues.
The Stars are 0-4-1 in their last five, have lost five of six overall, and sit 11th in the Conference with the 10th best points percentage (.532), just barely a tick above the Calgary Flames at (.531).
It's hard to explain what this team is right now. To many out there around the league the Stars are right where they were expected to be when the season began, having fallen from an unnaturally high perch in mid-November. To Stars fans they're badly injured (currently missing their top two centers in Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro, in case you've been living under a rock) and have been since starting the season 11-3-0, so to judge them too harshly would seem rash.
The cries of "let's see how they do when they get Benn and Ribeiro back" ring somewhat hollow when you consider the team's 13-18-2 (.424) performance since starting the year 11-3-0, how injured other successful teams are (St. Louis, Philadelphia, etc), the power play, the up and down home record, the 0-7-1 record on the second night of back to backs, and the losses to the Blue Jackets, Ducks, Wild, Lightning, Avalanche, etc. Mostly though, Ribeiro and Benn returning soon or not, you have to start wondering how late the hour is already with just 35 games to go.
The cold, hard fact of the matter is that to even equal last year's total of 95 points (which did not get the job done) the Stars will have to win 20 of their remaining 35 games, and lose a few in OT along the way. That's a demanding pace, and it's a tough reality to face as the All-Star break arrives.
The question some are starting to ask is if the Stars really have 35 games to figure it out, or if the trade deadline 16 games away is the real deadline.
Continued after the jump...One minute of hockey 'did the Dallas Stars in' Saturday night in Minnesota, to borrow the term Ralph and Razor used. Three quick goals by the Wild wasted what was a strong first period for Glen Gulutzan's group. He challenged them after the loss to the Lightning Friday and they responded. When they had a 2-1 lead in the second period you had to like their chances against a Minnesota team that just hasn't been able to score goals lately. You know what happened next.
A slow start to the game did them in on Friday night. A lucky bounce off a defensemen's skate and a skills competition did them in against the Red Wings. Lack of offensive presence (Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn) did them in in an otherwise solid effort in St. Louis. Against the Avalanche it was another slow start and some bad bounces.
Fans, players, coaches, media, bloggers... Everyone spends an enormous amount of time breaking down these things individually, game by game. Individually the errors and reasons and explanations make sense. Individually they seem correctable.
Over all, when you consider the variety of ways these games have gone south at the critical moments lately, it's starting to feel like a larger issue. It's something different every night. Health (absolute, complete health) might cure it. A nice little vacation for most guys this week to clear their heads might help too.
This all reminds me of something Mike Heika wrote earlier this year:
I believe this is one of the biggest stats on which you can measure a team. The Stars are 6-1-0 when tied after two periods. That's right, put two teams on the ice, tell them two points are up for grabs in the next 20 minutes and turn them loose.
And see who wants it more.
Routinely, the Stars have wanted it more this year.
That was the night of November 8th after the Stars defeated the Washington Capitals 5-2.
Now take, in contrast, recent events and their outcomes. The Stars have been tied in (maybe not starting) the third periods of games recently against the Avalanche, the Lightning, the Red Wings and the Blues, and unlike early in the year they have found ways to lose all of them.
Calling this into question (given Mike's verbiage) now might seem like we're suggesting that the Stars "don't want it more" lately, but that's not the case at all. If you spend any time talking to these guys and watching them work, as we're blessed to do, you can see very clearly just how badly they want it. They're just not getting it done for some reason and it goes beyond injuries. That "it factor" that permeated the first month of the season has not returned, and now the time is running short.
This is, as many blog posts are, an overreaction. Consider if the Stars had lost the game Saturday night by another score of 2-1. The narrative moving forward would continue to be that they're taking care of things in their own end, they're working hard, and they just don't have the pieces in the forward group right now to effectively facilitate consistent offense.
That meltdown Saturday night might be an aberration in a string of pretty solid efforts that just haven't been rewarding them. It might be purely the back to back problem, not some larger trend or part of some apocalyptic week as far as this season is concerned. They might come out against Anaheim and play another superb defensive game as they did against the Blues, the Lightning (for the most part) and the Red Wings. If they do that then the "just wait until Benn and Ribeiro" crowd could have some level of vindication heading into the break, but the math will still be just as ugly.
There are 16 games between today and the trade deadline. They contain eight home and eight away contests. They contain the Wild twice, the Coyotes twice, the (suddenly red hot) Ducks twice. They contain the Blackhawks, the Predators, the Red Wings and the Kings.
They contain this team's fate this year, their mentality at the deadline, and they start tomorrow against Anaheim and their "won seven of eight" streak.
Things don't look so good this morning, but as the players always like to say... A good week and you're right back in it. Either way, after the events of last week and the math, it's time to start asking ourselves some of the tougher questions this All-Star break.