Prior to Tuesday night's win over the Minnesota Wild, the 1-8-1 stretch that threatened to destroy the Dallas Stars hopes for the season was an interesting one to break down. The slump began with three straight losses defined by mistakes that began to come in bunches, offsetting what had been overall three strong performances against good teams. This includes the disastrous loss to the Islanders in Long Island, which can really be seen as the catalyst for when it all truly began to fall apart.
In the span of one game, namely one horrendous third period when the Islanders really knocked the wheels off the bus, the Dallas Stars abandoned their identity and what had made them successful as a team. Suddenly, the confidence in the system and in each other was shaken and the foundation that led to all those big wins in November and December was quickly crumbling beneath them.
Lindy Ruff and his coaching staff pushed nearly every button they could think of during the slump to try and pull out of it, when nothing seemed to work and each loss just added to the frustration. It wasn't as if the Stars were being run out of the building night after night, in fact it could be said the Stars had played quite well during long stretches despite the number of losses incurred.
This was a slump about losing composure at the wrong time, about allowing too many goals against to come in bunches and quickly erase any strong play that might have come before. The Stars were the victim of some awful puck luck during those ten games, half of which the Stars had a decided advantage in possession throughout the contest.
As the slump continued, in an effort to fix what was so obviously broken, the Stars retreated further and further from the formula that had brought success the previous two months. Gone was the confident, speedy and attacking team that had been darn fun to watch for most of the season, replaced by a team once again too concerned with making a mistake and playing it safe to the point it was detrimental to the team overall.
Against the Wild on Tuesday, the Stars seemed to have -- for now -- regained the confidence that had made them so dangerous in December. Dallas dominated Minnesota up and down the ice, displaying the strongest defensive performance for the team all season while once again using their team speed and attacking presence to keep the puck as far away from their own net as possible.
It's important to remember that Lindy Ruff's system for this team is built on quickly moving the puck up the ice and using the speed of the team to take the other team off their game. This system has come under attack the past month or so as the league begins to scout the Stars and teams start to face Dallas for the third and fourth times this season. Trying to push through it pulled the Stars away from their strengths, but after what seemed to be a big team meeting Ruff decided to return to the line combinations that had brought their success.
While Nichushkin was still not quite himself, he still played a smart and efficient game and it was obvious how his presence affected Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. While the top line might not have scored they were dangerous all game long, and opened up opportunities for the rest of the team. The depth scoring for the Stars returned and the power play continued it's resurgence, perhaps the only positive to come out of that long slump.
Using this speed attack is one the Stars will have to rely on, and understand that it will result in chances against going the other way. Limiting those chances is important but attempting to play it too safe only leads to more errors; aggressively moving the puck up the ice with speed and authority is what makes this team play at its very best.
It's this speed and aggression with the puck that has a positive effect on the Stars defensively as well; forwards are more aggressive on their backcheck and the defensemen are more confident in their gap control as the puck is moving up and down the ice. It's this system that fuels the relentless attack the Stars are capable of, and one the Stars slowly abandoned as the slump continued.
There's no guarantee that the Stars have actually pulled out of this slide, at least when it comes to the standings. A tough schedule looms ahead for Dallas and even improved overall play could still result in some tough losses in the near future. What can't happen is that the Stars once again abandon the system that makes them competitive, because it will matter more in the long term even if the short term outcomes aren't exactly optimal.