The Dallas Stars have watched 18 pucks enter their net in their last three games. It wasn't Chicago, San Jose and Anaheim. It wasn't St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Boston.
It was the offenses belonging to Detroit (14th), Montreal (21st), and the New York Islanders (17th), and it comes on the heels of a 5-0-2 streak against the best in the West.
That's hard to reconcile in one's head. After all, I don't know about yours but my tongue still has the vestiges of green Kool-Aid on it. (Remember "Dallas Stars Proving They Belong in West's Historically Tough Playoff Race" just eight days ago?)
So players, coaches and fans alike have waded into a pool much deeper than we anticipated, all the while explaining how it wasn't really all that bad. Until last night's 7-3 drubbing at the hands of the lowly Isles.
The rhetoric has advanced its negativity thusly: Against Montreal Ruff said that it "wasn't very good," and focused on the mistake that cost them the game late.
"We found a way to battle back and then we didn't defend very well. But really our strength in this run has been how we've defended, and to give up that opportunity--It was really only a 2-on-4 and to play it the way we did, really hurt us."
Then after the debacle with Detroit his attitude and ours were still positive, based on the start they had and the different path the game could have taken if not for all of the missed chances.
"For the number of guys not feeling that well I thought our energy in the game was good," Ruff said Saturday. "We came out great but didn't score. Our execution in finishing out opportunities wasn't good enough.""
So when the early chances finally DID go in on Monday night and the Stars built a 2-0 lead that, at the time, felt pretty comfortable, it seemed the other two games were indeed just a function of frustration and bad luck.
Then the second period started and it never seemed to end. You know what happened- And this time the words that followed lost their patient tone.
"Their legs were better," Ruff opined. "Their energy level was better, their puck management was better. That might have been our worst game of the year."
"They basically looked like we usually look."
I was content to flush the other two games down the toilet due to what seemed like a hiccup ending an impressive 5-0-2 stretch. This one raises questions when combined with those.
Is it just legs? Is it the various illnesses they've passed back and forth? Is the team as a whole in need of recuperation?
Ruff thinks so.
"You factor where our team has been at with sickness and everything," he added, "and maybe we need a couple of days to recover. Because there hasn't been a game where we looked this slow, moved the puck this slow and not been able to catch guys."
That's fine. Except for the part where they looked fantastic in the first period against the Wings, and how they built that 2-0 lead last night. One might argue that they were able to do those things before they got tired on those individual nights as a whole.
Was it Sergei Gonchar and Trevor Daley returning? Ruff said he thought Daley was the freshest and quickest they had, and the shot attempt totals seem to back that up. Is it Kari Lehtonen and Dan Ellis? They've not been stellar, but that's not it entirely. Not even close.
Or is it simply a crisis of confidence, as it was early in the year? Is there some "try too hard" going on out there?
The Stars plan, their identity, their culture- Is speed. In transition. In back-checking. In breakouts, most importantly. If the puck-bungling and the second guessing and the poor defending hinder the breakouts, the speed is nowhere to be found. It must be applied as a unit of five.
Or could it be a darker problem still? Jim Nill was on The Ticket post-game show last week extolling the virtues of the Stars' speed game, mentioning that other teams are game-planning for it (paraphrasing...). Is it an extension of that?
Are hitters looking for the Stars' one good pitch that fooled folks for a period of time? Is the scouting report out?
Only Lindy Ruff knows what he's thinking, and it sounds like he's leaning toward fatigue and illness.
Sometimes a lull is just a lull. Look at Minnesota. Colorado's had theirs. This is not a bad time to have one, if have it they must. These Eastern teams should make a fat meal, it's true, but the Stars have four Super Bowls coming up before the Olympics.
@Minnesota, home to Minnesota, @Phoenix and home to Phoenix- And it's best to get this mess out of the way before those which they most desperately need, need, need to have.
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