After Monday night's 5-4 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators, the Dallas Stars were once again faced with a number of questions about the team and just what the immediate future could hold for this squad moving forward. The Stars have now blown five leads on the season; no matter what the Stars have been in recent memory, giving up leads is not something fans are used to seeing.
So allowing five goals to a Nashville team dead last in scoring is certainly concerning. Giving up a two-goal lead after having completely control of the game is concerning, especially since this isn't the first time that has happened this season, and it doesn't allow for much optimism about the perceived direction of the team.
So things are looking...down?
But this came just two days after the most complete victory the Stars have had this season, a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks at home. The loss in Nashville also included another Reilly Smith goal and marked the tenth straight game the Stars have scored three or more goals, just the second time that has happened since the team came to Dallas.
The Stars have apparently solved the offensive woes of the first month of the season -- amazing what having some healthy goal-scorers on the team can do -- and don't appear to resemble the Stars team that looked completely lost during a 1-4-0 stretch at the end of January.
So things are looking up?
Yet the Stars are now 2-3-1 in their past six games and have given points away to teams they really should have easily beaten. While this latest loss to Nashville is frustrating, I'd say the meltdown at home against Calgary is wholly inexcusable. During this stretch the Stars have scored 21 goals and are 4-for-10 on the power play in the past two games, but have allowed 24 goals and have gone just 20-for-26 (76 percent) on the penalty kill.
So...are things looking up or down?
Perhaps that's the issue with this season. Some of us were prepared for a rollercoaster ride with these Dallas Stars but now that we're actually in motion and hanging on for dear life through the peaks and valleys of 19 games -- the reality is much more difficult to stomach, no matter what we may have expected.
Mike Heika puts it perfectly in his breakdown of Monday's loss, stating that we "just have to be able to enjoy the chaos." Because that's exactly what is happening and what we'll have to live with. This is a team not only in "transition," but one that is gaining valuable experience for players like Brenden Dillon, Jamie Oleksiak, Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin, Jordie Benn and even Cristopher Nilstorp. The Stars are one heck of a green hockey team when it comes to NHL experience and there are going to be some very real bumps along the way.
Giving up two goal leads is inexcusable, but these are the valleys this team and these players must go through in order to really learn how to win. "Trial by fire" is the term generally used for what the Stars are going through right now, in this moment and in this season. Even with Derek Roy, Jaromir Jagr, Stephane Robidas and a number of other veterans on the roster, there are some tough lessons that the team as a whole will need to live through and learn.
The trick is to learn from them.
There is some consternation about how just as it seems an issue has been corrected -- scoring, power play -- two more pop up, an ongoing whack-a-mole game that seems to do nothing but hold the team back. Perhaps it's just a case of being an optimist, but it's tough to not be encouraged by the strides and improvements the Stars have made this season.
Perhaps that's all I'm looking for this season; some signs of growth and improvement and growing cohesion as a team. The actual end-results are all that really matter but for a team like the Stars, seeing improvement is perhaps just as important. The playoffs are certainly the ultimate goal and with each squandered point the postseason looms as a tougher and tougher destination; there is something to be said about the actual journey to get there, however.
Some more thoughts on last night's game...
- So why are the Stars losing four of six games, despite scoring more than three goals per game? Simple, really. The goaltending of the Stars, whether that's Nilstorp or Richard Bachman, has simply not been good enough. Nilstorp looked better against San Jose but was once again shaky on Monday night; it's tough not to think about how the outcome of the game might have differed had Kari Lehtonen have been in net. Perhaps that's why it's tough for me -- personally -- to make any long-lasting decisions about where this team stands -- let's see what happens if the Stars continue scoring three goals per game with Lehtonen back in net before true panic sets in.
- I enjoy seeing Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser get top six minutes perhaps more than anyone, but the Stars desperately need Ray Whitney back. Whitney's value on offense cannot be overstated but his leadership, experience and calming influence on the bench would have been grossly valuable during last night's game.
- Think Jaromir Jagr wanted that win? The veteran was the last Stars player off the ice following the winning goal and was visibly upset with how the game ended. Let's hope that frustration and that passion fuels not only Jagr, but also carries over to the rest of the team.
- The Dallas Stars need to find a better way with which to use Jamie Oleksiak. He is at his best when allowed to play aggressively in the offensive zone and in transition and while he's been solid overall on defense (aside from the Wilson goal) he's been wholly unspectacular when the puck is on his stick. Perhaps he's deferring a bit too much, perhaps his confidence is still growing, but there is no doubt that the defenseman who has been tearing up the AHL for two months needs to become more involved overall when he's on the ice for Dallas.
- I can't say enough how great Cody Eakin has been for the Stars this season.
- Perhaps the biggest reason for consternation after last night's game has to do with the circumstances around the unraveling in the second period. Already down a man after Eric Nystrom was hit with an extra minor on top of fighting, Vernon Fiddler was called for two minor penalties after basically attacking Mike Fisher near the Preds bench. No matter what injustice caused Fiddler to lose his cool, it is absolutely inexcusable for a player of his experience to fall into such a trap.
There has been many debates lately over the nature of "game changing moments" and what role fights and big "tough" moments may have on a game. Ever since that game in Vancouver, in which three staged fights seemingly helped the Stars come back in a big win, it seems as the fourth line has taken it even more upon themselves to provide some level of pugilism that perhaps the Stars have been missing.
I made a comment on Twitter about what trying to be a "tough team" can do to a team, but that doesn't exactly apply here. Whether Fiddler was simply trying to provide some toughness for the Stars is not for us to speculate; what's clear is that the veteran forward lost his cool and made a very poor decision at a very bad moment in the game.
Was the Fiddler penalty and resulting 5-on-3 responsible for the loss? Certainly not...but it didn't help. It gave the Predators a foothold to climb back into the game and once that momentum starts to shift -- and a raucous home crowd is pulled back into the game -- it was obviously tough for the Stars to stop.
The Stars are not a team that afford many penalties or mistakes; they certainly cannot afford or allow for more mental breakdowns of that nature to continue.