Today and tomorrow we're going to be taking a look at the past month for the Dallas Stars, both from a stats analysis point of view as well as a breakdown of each area of the Stars game. This morning we're going to start off with a general impression of the Stars so far, and where we think this team may be headed moving forward.
This past weekend as I watched film on most of the Stars game so far this season, one thing became readily apparent as you looked at the month as a whole: these Dallas Stars are missing something. It's not a scientific analysis, more of a feel you get once you start watching games back to back. I don't even know exactly what that something is, otherwise this would be a completely different article. What I can say is that through one month and 13 games the Dallas Stars have rarely been consistent, looking unbeatable one game and painfully mediocre the next.
The record isn't bad and the Stars are in much, much better shape than they were at this time last season. Through 14 games in 2008, the Stars were 5-7-2 and in 14th in the Western Conference; through 13 games this season they are 6-3-5 and in 6th in the West. For all of the frustrations of the first month of the season, the Stars are still in great position in the conference and the division. They can survive this past mini-slump, which will happen in a season, and move forward with nothing but a sour memory of a few games gone wrong. The trick is to not let this slump draw itself out.
And that's where my concern lies.
The Dallas Stars currently have no identity as a team. A group of players that were entrenched in a very particular system for a number of years and now have been asked to change; it's not a drastic change, but it's obviously been enough to have this team become painfully inconsistent through 13 games.
Changing coaches and systems is not a new concept in any sport, but it's how the coach teaches and implements the change and how receptive the players are is the key to success. Marc Crawford didn't walk into Dallas with a need to rebuild from the ground up. He has a very good core group of players and he's putting his own touch on how they operate as a team. The Stars have shown the offensive ability to seemingly score at will, as the defensmen have become much more comfortable with getting in on the attack and crashing the net from the blue line. They've shown resilience and grit as they fight though bad nights to get a much needed point, and have seemed to be able to muster that one last push (and score) that we haven't seen in past seasons.
Yet we've also seen a team that has a tendency to play flat and without energy for long stretches during a game, and has had trouble establishing pressure early in games at home. Some games the Stars try to be a run and gun offensive powerhouse, others the Stars attempt to assert physical dominance along the boards. Some games the teams seems incapable of connecting on simple passes out of the zone and in transition, others the Stars spend long stretches cycling the puck in the offensive zone.
The defense is in drastic need of a puck-moving defenseman to counter Stephane Robidas. Trevor Daley is slowly starting to come around offensively, but a true number one he is not. Robidas does his best every night to set the example but this team desperately needs a big defenseman that can push the puck up ice and establish physical dominance in front of the net. Those aren't easy to come by, but it's frustrating to see the Stars sit this far under the cap and not be able to at least attempt to acquire one over the summer.
Perhaps this team is struggling with a lineup that is constantly in flux, between injuries and suspensions, while also learning on the fly as they adapt to the style of play Crawford wants. The inconsistency could be explained by a lack of chemistry on a night by night basis. The absence of Mike Modano for this long is also clearly hurting this team. His leadership and experience on the third line has become invaluable, and while he is far from the player he was just four or five years ago, there's no doubt that his ability to create chances and score at any moment would change the dynamic of the team. Tom Wandell has performed admirably in his absence and has improved week to week, but a Mike Modano he is not.
Yet to me, watching these games it seems there may be a good answer for why this team has been inconsistent: Brenden Morrow is still not himself.
The Dallas Stars feed off of Brenden Morrow. He is one the best leaders in the NHL and when he is playing at the top of his game this team is nearly unstoppable. He is a scoring threat at any time, has great offensive anticipation and is one of the more physical forwards on the team. Yet he's nowhere near the level we've come to expect from Morrow over the years, and that's to be expected. He's returning from a serious injury where most say that it takes over a year to fully heal from. He started strong but has faded in recent games and doesn't seem to have the jump and energy others around him feed of. It most likely isn't the knee that is bothering him either; his legs and body are still trying to get back in hockey shape after spending so much time in rehab.
The good news is that the Stars are not a bad team or even a mediocre one. They have the talent and ability to do some good things this season, make the playoffs and then anything can happen. We're only 13 games into a very long season, and the Stars have managed to do well enough to be able to get by while struggling with consistency. There is talk of the Marc Crawford juggling the lines a bit as he attempts to jolt his team out of the lull they find themselves in, and perhaps that is the best next step. We've seen flashes of brilliance but only rarely have we seen the team as whole play together up and down each line.
It's a long road ahead and we've seen some good things. This is the time to work the kinks out and determine just what kind of team the Dallas Stars will be this season.
One month down, five and half more to go.