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Stargazing: Stars Fall Short on Road Again, Lose to Jackets 2-1

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Stargazing is a daily assortment of Dallas Stars  and NHL news, and whatever other random ramblings are bouncing around inside our heads.

It was a pretty newsy, exciting Thursday until it ended with the Stars 12th loss in their last 13 road games. Ilya Kovalchuk was traded to the New Jersey Devils, HSG anounced that the Stars might be up for sale in the near future, and conveniently, the Tampa Bay Lightning sale was confirmed, proving that maybe you really can sell an NHL franchise in this economic climate. The cherry on top of the evening was this letter from Stars President Jeff Cogen, who assured fans that the focus would remain squarely on making the playoffs, and doing "whatever is necessary to make that happen." I believe some of you have theories on exactly "what is necessary" to make that happen that don't jive with their current modus operandi.

It seems unlikely that the team would be bought, if put up for sale, by an investor worse off financially than the Hicks Sports Group appears to be, so in looking at the big picture I am forced to conclude that Stars fans got some pretty exciting news yesterday.

Turning our attention back to this year and the stated goal of making the playoffs: Well, that's not very exciting. They went on the road, they got good goaltending, and forgiving the empty netter, they allowed only one goal. They stayed out of the box, giving their opponents exactly zero power play opportunities. That sounds like a recipe for pulling points out of a road game to me. The problem is that they forgot about the offense.

When they finally "beat" Mason last night, it had been about 119 minutes or so since they scored a goal on the road. Given the fact that their kryptonite, The Phoenix Coyotes come to town tomorrow and then it's three more on the scoreless road to finish February, things are not looking very rosy for the Stars playoff chances.

Which team is lusting after Jamie Benn and James Neal? That, and lot's of quotes and reaction after the jump...

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First off, Mike Heika echoed what we have said here about the possible movement of the team. This has been the first question out of many people's (including mine) mouths:

Q: Is there any chance someone like Jim Balsillie could jump in and buy the team and move it to Canada?

HEIKA: I would say the chances of that are almost zero. The reason the Stars have the value they do is because of the arena deal and the success of hockey in Texas. It would make no sense for the buyer to pay that much just to move the team (why not buy a more distressed property at a much lower price?) and it would make no sense for the league. If the NHL fought that hard to keep the Coyotes in Arizona, they would fight even harder to keep the Stars in Dallas.

So don't worry about it.

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The Stars have a statement on their web site about the anouncement, and the letter from President Cogen to fans. They add this:

What does this mean for the Dallas Stars? Everyone in the organization is focused on one goal:  making the playoffs and having a run at the Stanley Cup.  

"We want to put our energies into packing American Airlines Center with fans who believe.  Our focus is on winning hockey games and making the playoffs," said Cogen. "Plain and simple, that’s our mission." 

The Stars have had significant success during Hicks' ownership of the team, which began in 1996.

I assume they mean giving the fans a reason to pack American Airlines Center.

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I though Mark Stepneski nailed the game last night here, especially in this first paragraph:

The Stars looked like they were trying to win a 1-0 game and then about halfway through it they finally realized they were down 1-0 and would have to win it 2-1 or at least score one to get a point out of it.

In other words, I thought they were lackluster through the first part of the game. You’d think with their current situation, where they are in the standings and all, there would appear to be a little more desperation in their game. Maybe it was there, but I didn’t really see it until later in the game.

They could have used the power play tonight. Special teams are a difference maker a lot of nights and it could have been this night. They had a couple of chances in the third period to get the game even and the power play play fizzed. It hasn’t been good lately. Not having Mike Ribeiro has hurt. Not having Mike Modano tonight hurt some more. Still, there’s enough talent left to get something done, and it didn’t happen.

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The Jackets (defenders) worked hard to get their new coach his first win: (Columbus Dispatch)

Interim coach Claude Noel promised to bring joy and a sense of levity into what was becoming an increasingly uptight Blue Jackets dressing room.

In his first game as an NHL coach, Noel delivered smiles, a taut 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars and, perhaps, the team's new slogan: Play for the hard hat.

Moments after Steve Mason made the last of his 22 saves, he strode into the room, firing imaginary pistols and wearing a white hard helmet with a small Blue Jackets decal on it. Teammates laughed at the sight of their introverted goaltender hamming it up.

"It's presented to the hardest worker of the game," Mason said. "Obviously, it's a very sought-after item and I'm quite happy to have it right now. It's the first one and I have to say I look pretty good."

A trying 24-hour period that saw the firing of Ken Hitchcock and ample soul-searching by the players ended with a stress-relieving victory.

How often does an empty net goal get credited as the "game winner"? It's just that kind of (road) season for the Dallas Stars.

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Mike Heika wrote a real nice piece last night that I thought had two intriguing parts to it. Click on over to read the whole thing, because we love Mike.

"You definitely want to give your team every chance to compete, and that is a huge part of how we will look at things," Nieuwendyk said. "I do believe these five games leading up to the Olympic break will be very big for us. We play four of them on the road, we've struggled on the road, and we have the opportunity to make a statement that we've addressed those issues and improved our team. If we do that, I definitely think that sends a message."

...

Would they move Steve Ott? They are still in talks with Ott's agent in trying to get a contract extension done. But Ott, who can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, is targeting a deal somewhere between Dustin Byfuglien's three-year, $9 million deal and Sean Avery's four-year, $15.5 million deal. So should they consider trading Ott and getting a nice return if they don't have the ability to sign him in the summer?

 

That's certainly being considered, as is signing Ott and moving another forward to open up salary space.

Is Steve Ott worth that? In October or November I would have said no, but just looking at the last couple of months, his impact is undeniable. He has been the teams spark plug, and at times their emotional leader on the ice. It doesn't hurt that his offensive numbers (9 points in his last 12 games) are on the rise.

Joe Nieuwendyk is basically saying that how they do before the break will determine if they're buying or selling. Buying isn't even the right word. They will determine whether they're trying to finagle a financially-sideways deal to get better without increasing payroll, or selling. One game into those five and things aren't looking so hot. There's still time?

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Quotes:

Marty Turco says "we" by which he means "you all" (his teammates)

"All year the road's been a nemesis," distraught goalie Marty Turco said. "Tonight's game isn't going to give us any confidence. We weren't intense enough, in my mind, finishing checks and doing the little things."

But then turns it around and takes his lumps:

"We've played some good games, don't get me wrong, and good enough to win," Turco said. "But collectively I've let in some bad goals, some bad plays, mistakes that end up costing us, and it ends up being something that we dwell on. We're going to have to earn our way out of it."

The Stars were missing three starting centers in Ribeiro, Modano and Wandell. Marc Crawford says:

"Everyone deals with (injuries)," coach Marc Crawford said. "We're not going to use it as an excuse. We've got to find a way. Opportunities are there for certain people. We needed everybody on deck, and we had a few guys that didn't play at the level they needed to play at. That's a little bit disparaging. But for the most part you can't argue with our effort because it was there."

"We made a couple of good plays but didn't convert on them," Crawford said. "You'd like to have the wherewithal to be able to handle the moment in that situation, but it seemed like we had four guys going and maybe one guy not going on the power play. We needed a little bit more urgency, and that's where it really showed through, probably on those power plays."

"Most nights, that kind of effort is going to be good enough," Crawford said after the 2-1 loss to Columbus.

 

Brad Richards uses what should be the #1 word in their vocabulary from here on out:

"One side has to win, and that side is usually the one that executes better or works harder," Richards said. "We have to get a lot more desperate."

Desperate.

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Want more on Kovalchuk? Did Ryan Getzlaf really squirt a water bottle at a fan last night? The SB Nation NHL home page is a great place to go to keep up with all of this stuff.

Check out Pennsburgh: In the Kovalchuk fallout, they're coveting our two most prized possessions (Neal and Benn), and I don't like that kind of talk one bit.