I see what the Dallas Stars are doing wrong on the ice and why they are getting caught in bad situations just about constantly for the better part of the last couple of games (Det, CBJ, Chi especially).
First, let me preface by saying I have been (and will always be) a loyal fan of the Stars and a student of the game. I like the way so many things change, yet they still seem to stay the same. We add new faces to the lineup and we still look like a bubble team. We change our offensive scheme and we still resort to a dump and chase mentality. I like this because it shows the problems this team has are not one players problems, it is a team of players problems. And it will take a team of players to solve them.
Despite this horrific start to the season (or more appropriate the losing streak the team finds itself on) I love what this team is becoming. I really like Benn, Eriksson, Eakin, Daley, and Lehtonen (as the core...and yes, I included Eakin in the core). All successful teams have a core of un-tradable players and therefore an identity. Identity is key to success in this league. It is what the players fall back on when times are tough, it is what other teams see when they skate against them, and it is what the fans rally behind. Dallas as of right now is creating a core, and an identity is sure to follow.
The next group of players are not part of the core, but vital to the teams success (or failures). Ryder, Whitney, Roy, and Goligoski. Roy and Goligoski are very close to being core players, but until Dallas resigns Roy and until Goligoski finds his niche, I am not sold on either being un-tradable. (more on Goligoski below). Whitney is a rare player and great to have in the lineup. He will give 110% every night and get a bit saucy from time to time. Ryder is a sniper plain and simple. I hope Dallas resigns him for at least 2-3 more years, but I suspect he will be the focus of a lot of rumors this trade deadline.
I left off Jagr, Morrow and Robidas from these two groups because I honestly do not see the team bringing any ofthese three back. Jagr will most likely retire (or move on, just like he did from Philly) and Morrow & Robidas will either be traded or not resigned. I would be shocked if Dallas starts the 2013-14 season with Morrow as the captain.
The rest of the team is either filling a role (Fiddler, Nystrom, Garbutt, Vincour) or they are young talent vying for a place on the roster (Dillon, Jo Benn, Larsen, Smith).
I like the core and I am happy with most of the role players. The talent will show its true colors (for better or worse) and the filler forwards will be dealt with in one form or another. Once the team puts a "C" on Benn's jersey (and hopefully a new version of the jersey) the team will change (maybe not be better, but certainly not the same).
Here are the aforementioned problems I see with this current team.
1. Goligoski: He looks flustered. He looks like he is about one yip pass away from hitting a "Datsyuk" type player in the tape every time he turns up the ice (powerplay or 5-on-5). He has, quite simply, lost his confidence. What I suspect (and the majority of me hopes) is that he is trying too hard to make the perfect play (stretch pass, shot, breakout play). I hope he isn't burping the puck up because he is apathetic or not trying. It doesn't look that way, so I'll assume he is just trying too hard.
He also looks flustered at the point on the power play. He (when he takes a shot from the point) either hits the defender right in front of him, or he hits the goalie in the logo. He seems to only have one shot in his "bag of tricks"; slap-shot as hard as you can and make sure it hits the center of the net. I have yet to see him try to slap-pass a puck to a forward cutting in front of the net or shooting the puck low and slow around the first set of defenders to see if a Stars player can redirect it in front.
2. Morrow: Something is very wrong here, and there is more to it than just him looking slower than the Zamboni machine. He (for every year I can remember him playing) played with heart more than pure-skill. He drove pucks up the boards, he fought and dug into the corners, he instigated and got in the oppositions head. He currently doesn't show any spark of life on the ice. Last night (in Detroit) he drew two penalties and didn't take a penalty all game. (when was the last time that happened?) Yet, he looked out of place and not in the game for the vast majority of the night. Maybe it has something to do with age, or Ott leaving has its lingering effects. Maybe it is the shifting up and down the lineup, not having a set role on the team (except for stand in front of the net on the powerplay) or maybe it is the "C" that he feels he is not living up to anymore.
Hard to tell with him, but he looks like a ghost out on the ice, a shadow of how he once played and performed.
3. Puck Battles: I know Gulutzan demands the team to be more physical in the corners and win puck battles, but it seems even he is over commiting to this strategy. Last night was a great microcosm of this point (comparing Dallas to Detroit). When Dallas would dump and chase into the Detroit end of the ice, Dallas would send all three forwards to the back board. The puck would get tied up along the boards (either in the corner or behind the net) and something strange would happen. The two D-men would enter the zone at the points (like normal) and the two wingers would pinch in to help win the puck off the board. Detroit would have one defenceman tangling for the puck and the other two players not in the scrum for the puck but right outside it waiting for the loose puck to be kicked or tapped their way. Once this occured, the two remaining Detroit forwards circling their defensive zone would get the puck and break back the other way.
I am a firm believer that Dallas is over-committing to "winning" those puck battles, and therefore losing the war of keeping the puck in the zone. I would like to see Dallas lessen up on sending guys into the boards to fight for those pucks and send perhaps just one guy in to go get the puck and have the other two forwards back a bit waiting for a pass. If the Dallas forward fails to retrieve the puck, ok, they lost the puck battle, but the rest of the team is ready for the oppositions breakout pass. If the Dallas player wins the puck battle and passes to a forward, a scoring opportunity may be a few heartbeats away.
4. Finish your checks: Dallas has completely given up on this mentality. The idea is simple. An opposing player along the boards (anywhere on the ice) has the puck and feels the pressure of a Dallas player closing in. The opposing player gets rid of the puck and the Dallas player peels off, either avoiding contact altogether or grazing the opposing forward. I know Interference is becoming the new favorite call in the NHL this year (and honestly I like it, if the referees would call it every time they see it) but finishing your checks is hockey. And a player that has the chance to hit a player (legally) on the ice should take it. Either that or back check to where the new puck carrier is like a demon.
At times, this current roster looks a lot better than it did last year (don't deny it, you know it is true). At times though, Dallas's game seems to revert to a tentative "try not to make any mistakes" style hockey with a dump-and-chase over-commit follow-up. It is frustrating for the forwards who are turning the pucks over in the opposing zone every shift, it is nerve racking for the defenceman who have to figure out how to get the puck out of their own zone constantly with ever increasing pressure on them, and just imagine what the goalie has to deal with!
This post may only serve the purpose of making me feel better for venting this to people who understand what this team is going through (and gone through, and going to go through this season). Thank you for putting up with my little rant. Cheers.