Once again, Dallas Stars fans are left discussing another frustrating loss. Once again, the Stars blew a two-goal lead and once again lost a game we walk away saying, "They should have won that one, what the hell is wrong with this team?"
The Stars blew a 2-0 first-period lead on Wednesday night to the Colorado Avalanche, failing to keep up in the tight postseason race and allowing a come-from-behind win to the worst team in the Western Conference.
This is a team that is so inconsistent, there's almost no consistency within a game. It's infuriating to watch, because there are extended moments where this team appears absolutely dominant but then is unable to even come close to sustaining that level of play throughout a game.
One hand, we're encouraged and hopeful because we see what this team can be capable of. We see the young players doing good things and showing some very real potential, for something very good -- if not great -- and we're excited about this Stars team can quickly become.
On the other, we see a squad that is once again fading when the pressure starts to mount and is unable to put teams away they should be handily beating. Imagine if the Stars could hold onto two-goal leads. Imagine if they could have held onto just three of those leads. Imagine if the Stars could just find away to survive long enough to lose in overtime or the shootout, like most other Western Conference teams. You know, losing the right way and all that.
Suddenly, this season would be looking much different.
Yet this is reality and the Stars sit further back in the West and while we're still talking about the postseason as a possibility, this is not a team that looks like it can suddenly rattle off 12 wins in the final 19 games -- which is what it will likely take to make the postseason at this points.
For those concerned that we're just writing off the playoffs at this point, a postseason appearance is still more than possible, but in the immortal words of Jim Mora -- let's just worry about winning a game first.
The question is, what exactly is wrong with this team?. While are they so inconsistent and why are blindly following along with this rollercoaster ride (as Heika has so eloquently framed this season) as the Stars showcase some very real issues while finding more and more creative ways to lose games they should have won?
A hockey legend, who currently leads this team in scoring, sums up the situation perfectly.
"You have to learn it," said Jaromir Jagr after Wednesday's loss. "That's the only way you can do it. We have a lot of young guys here that have to learn through this. I don't think we are realizing it's a playoff game for us every game from now on. I don't think we play it like a playoff game. We play it like game number four at the start of the season. We cannot do that if we want to make the playoffs. "
What Jagr is talking about is a sense of urgency, an ability to take the game to a different level and for the players to find a higher gear when the season amps up in the race for the postseason. It's something that has to be learned, it's a tough lesson to experience and we've historically seen that there are sometimes steps that teams need to take before they can finally find success.
The Stars are relying on an incredible amount of young players, most of which are playing in the biggest minutes and moments of their careers -- and the Stars are incredibly reliant on those players to succeed right now. Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin, Brenden Dillon, Jordie Benn and Jamie Oleksiak and are playing a major role on the Stars right now and all have shown flashes of brilliance while also making some game-changing mistakes at times.
This can't all be on the young players, however. And the blame cannot squarely fall on their shoulders.
The Stars have had this problem for four years now. The past three seasons the Stars have been in complete control of their playoff destiny yet faded down the stretch while teams around them in the standings stepped up to the plate.
A final regular season win was all that was needed in 2011, against a bad Minnesota Wild team, and the Stars looked like a team disinterested in even showing up.
It was a troubling trend. That was a group of players that failed to learn those lessons and the Stars and GM Joe Nieuwendyk decided to completely change the dynamic of the roster. Steve Ott, Adam Burish, Mike Ribeiro...gone. Just a handful of players remain from the start of the 2011-2012 season -- the turnover on the roster is, frankly, quite amazing.
The Stars knew they'd have to rely on some young, inexperienced but promising players so they focus on building an infrastructure around them. Jagr, Ray Whitney and Eric Cole were all added to help the transition for the Stars and to bring much-needed experience to an overall very green roster.
So we can understand the inconsistencies when you factor in the contributions of the young players, but you also feel frustration that the sweeping changes that have been made seem to have done absolutely little to change the end results.
Sure, they've changed around 60 percent of the roster but they're still likely to miss the postseason in infuriating fashion. Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas are still here and all of them have been present through the failures of the past. Nothing has really changed, right?
We may feel anger and frustration that the results are exactly the same but the counter argument here is that this is simply the path this team needs to follow for the future. These are the lessons these new-look Dallas Stars need to learn -- lessons that were not learned in the past. While the logo on their chests are the same, it's perhaps unfair to directly compare this season's struggles to the struggles of the past.
Saying that this is just a learning process and we just need to have patience -- there's that word again -- is easy. It's easy to say that as time goes on, the inconsistencies will subside and these young players and this new roster will start to figure things out and we can finally start to realize the potential we've been discussing.
The short term, however, is very painful.
In the past the Stars appeared to be a team incapable of growing and learning from those lessons. This season, the Stars can't seem to hold onto motivating learning points (like the Chicago loss) for more than one or two periods at a time. Perhaps all we're waiting on is a sign that, at the very least, this is a team that can at least show some sort of growth moving forward.
It's a learning process, plain and simple. As much as want to hold past transgressions against this team, the tough pill to swallow is that this is brand new team still trying to figure things out -- and there's still no right answer as to what the next step is.
Is Glen Gulutzan the answer behind the bench? Will Joe Nieuwendyk be given one more shot, if the Stars fail to make the postseason for the fourth time during his tenure? Can this Stars team continue to actually improve while facing the impending departure of Jagr, Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy?
Those questions won't be answered anytime soon. In the meantime, this is a team that is still searching for its own identity and attempting to learn some valuable lessons along the way.