DETROIT, MI - FEBRUARY 14: Henrik Zetterberg #40 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his first period goal between Stephane Robidas #3 and Steve Ott #29 of the Dallas Stars at Joe Louis Arena on February 14, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
"We should've been ready to go," said Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan Sunday after the team's 3-2 loss at home to the Kings. "At this juncture, you can't wait around to see what a game's going to be like. You have to play with some fear, some adrenaline in your body..."
Those are sentiments he probably didn't plan on echoing again so soon but the coach was there at the Joe last night talking once again about how the first ten minutes were their focus going in and they couldn't get it done there, taking an unnecessary penalty and failing to get the kill.
The Stars were left chasing the game again. At 2-17-1 now when trailing after the first period, it's a lesson they've had to endure time and time again. They've scored the first goal of the game in just six of their last seventeen outings.
Stars' General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk joined Bob and Dan on The Ticket yesterday afternoon and they wasted little time in asking him about the team's starts in these games recently. Nieuwendyk did not deflect the issue.
"It very much is [concerning]," said Nieuwendyk. "Everybody is tired this time of year. Certainly we do a lot of traveling in the Western Conference, but there's a number of teams that do that. It is concerning because you expect... you just look at the standings alone and you sense the urgency of it all and you expect that the fire in the belly comes out early in those games. That's been a big concern for sure."
The Red Wings underlined those concerns and then put a couple of exclamation points on the end of them last night en route to a 20 shot period that saw them jump out to a 2-0 lead that would hold up the rest of the way. Dallas has been out-shot in the first period five times in eight games since the All-Star break and has trailed four times at the first intermission in that span, losing all of them.
Gulutzan has been emphasizing their start repeatedly to the media and players alike. Adam Burish knew last night that it just wasn't good enough again.
"Playing against a team like that is tough when you get down 2-0. Maybe our start, the first 10-15 minutes of the game, probably wasn't where we wanted it," said Burish. "That was a point of emphasis that we had going into the game. We didn't have that start."
In first periods ONLY since the All-Star Break...
|Opponent||Pucks Directed At Net - DAL||PDAT - OPP||Shots For||Shots Against||Goals For||Goals Against|
Total Pucks Directed At Net = Shots + Goals + Missed Shots + Attempts Blocked
The numbers only tell us so much. The Stars have only trailed after one period in the eight games a total of four times. They've only been out-shot (in this manner, with the blocks, missed shots and everything factored in) four times, two of which they wound up winning.
The Stars played with the puck far more than the Kings on Sunday, out-shooting Los Angeles 10-4, but still fell behind 2-0 in the second period and chased the game all evening before tying it, only to lose it again a few minutes later.
Numbers ring hollow sometimes. Those watching these games know that even when the metrics tell you it's not so bad, the Stars have come out of the gate with very little fire. They come out, as their coach says, seemingly waiting to see what the game's going to be like. If they are able to earn the games first break or be the recipients of the first bounce, it gives them a lot of confidence to take it and run with it. If adversity strikes early it usually takes a while to get things going in the right direction, and by that time the margin for error is too slim.
If you're starting to feel like you've read all of this before, you're not wrong. The Stars had this same problem last year and we covered it then too in such posts as "Slow Starts Continue to Haunt Stars" - December 9th, 2010. The recurring theme, despite the immense roster turnover and coaching changes, is what makes it frustrating for fans and players alike.
"They got two goals in the first," said Loui Eriksson last night. "We have to be better in the beginning of the games. We know they are a really good team and have been playing really good at home. They got a better start and it's tough when they are up 2-0 against you."
To the Stars credit they stuck with their game plan and had a fairly impressive push back after the first 20 minutes. After being grossly out-chanced in the first, the Stars, by our count, were about dead even with them the rest of the way despite the large disparity in power play time.
At the end of the day, as Gulutzan says, it's about results, and the Stars haven't gotten one in their favor in three straight games. Anaheim is closing in from behind, the Coyotes are pulling away out in front. The Flames are moving too, and the Stars have four with Vancouver coming up. In November you'd take a pretty hard fought game like this one, or the one on Sunday, and move on knowing the battle level is there.
In mid-February, in 11th place, that's not enough. The Stars have to find a way to come out of the gate Thursday with their hair on fire and go from there. There's not much time left.