Over the past eight days, the Dallas Stars have lost five straight games that included 194:11 of ice time without a goal spanning four games. We've seen two games where the Stars were tied with their opponent heading into the third period only to fall apart in the final frame. We've also seen a Dallas Stars team that seemed to have lost all sense of what had made them a successful team to start the season, including a 6-0 debacle of a loss against Florida on home ice.
This losing streak has called into question many aspects of this team especially considering how coach Glen Gulutzan refused to stray from his plan and wanted his team to just fight through the adversity. We've seen how a singular injury -- the loss of Alex Goligoski to a broken thumb -- has an incredible effect on the rest of the team. We've also seen how the regression of Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow as serious offensive threats has created a void in scoring ability outside of the top line.
Of all the things we've learned about this team over the past week or so, I don't think we learned quite as much about what is really ailing this team as we did late Saturday night.
The Dallas Stars are a frustrated team right now. That frustration has now led to emotions boiling over, directed at both the opposition and the officials, which further halts any momentum that has been built and gives the opponent a better opportunity to get the upper hand in the game.
What was really eye-opening, however, is the frankness with which coach Gulutzan spoke to the media last night after the game.
The big focus right now is on the fact that the Dallas Stars are on the wrong side of the penalty calls each game. Every single game the Stars are being called for more penalties than the opposition and usually in frustrating fashion; calls that weren't made against the opponent are instead being made against the Stars.
This is an undeniable fact. It's happening right in front of our eyes every single game. The question, of course, is why. The Stars aren't the victim of some vast conspiracy against this team where the NHL has decided they're going to find new ways to screw over the Stars every game. Instead, it's become apparent that the Stars are likely infuriating the officials with both their play on the ice as well as what they have to say after the whistle has been blown.
Coach Gulutzan was incredibly forthcoming after the game and was honest and open about his feelings about what is hurting this team right now.
"I do have issues with the officiating," said Gulutzan. "I might sound like a whiny coach, but I had some beefs with the officiating when we were 11-3 and now we're 11-8 and I still have them. I think those beefs are warranted. We've been kind of keeping a log of it. I think we are on the wrong end of a lot of calls, but I think it is our fault. I think it's our fault. We whine like little babies throughout the game and I don't know if there's been a history of that here or not, but every team I've coached we've always been at the other end of the scale. We are the worst [power play/penalty kill] differential in the league and every team I've coached we've always been the opposite and the least penalized team in the league.
"That's going to change," Gulutzan continued. "We're going to change that culture here. We've got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. Refs are human and if you whine that much they are not going to give you calls. That's the bottom line. And we're not getting them. We're not getting some calls and it's our fault."
Gulutzan would go on to say how he feels the first period against the Sharks was their best in five games, how they fought hard and had great energy. In the end, another bad penalty taken by the Stars led to an easy power play goal for the Sharks by a suddenly porous penalty kill unit for Dallas.
What he has to say about the amount of penalties this team is taking, and why, is very forthcoming. You can see that he's getting frustrated with the mentality and approach of the players when it comes to calls on the ice. He recognizes that the Stars are on the wrong side of these calls each and every game but more importantly he's not blaming the officials -- he's laying the blame directly at the feet of the team he's coaching.
Then Gulutzan really hit the main issue right on the button, making certain that we know that he realizes what is hurting this team the most.
"We have to play less frustrated when adversity hits," said Gulutzan. "That's going to change. I'll tell you guys this honestly, I'll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don't get out of this, but at the end of the day we're going to do it the way we're going to do it. We're going to be men, we're going to have character, we're going to shut our mouths and we're going to play. If that's not good enough then so be it."
The Dallas Stars are playing better. They're working harder and for the most part are putting the puck on the net more consistently after an insanely bad game against Florida. What is not happening is the Stars just putting their heads down and continuing to work through the frustration of an insanely demoralizing losing streak. Instead, they're letting their emotion come through and debilitate any chance they have at winning, culminating in what should be an embarrassing end to the Sharks game on Saturday night.
For the fans in attendance the game, it was an exciting showcase of emotion in a game where there really wasn't much to cheer about. In reality, it was a showcase of how a team falls apart and let's their emotion rule their play. The Sharks players and coach admitted after the game they knew this would be an issue for the Stars and they wanted to take advantage of it. They knew the team was struggling and frustrated and these Stars have a history of losing their cool and forgetting that putting the puck in the net is what wins games.
Now, there is something to say about how showing up and playing more physical and with more emotion is a great way to work through the frustrations of losing games like this. It's obvious, and Gulutzan admitted as much after the game, that there is such a thing as going too far with that emotion and physicality and putting yourself in a hole with the officiating.
Gulutzan is making some very interesting statements about the state of this team's mentality right now and it's apparent that changes are coming. Already, we know that Philip Larsen and Tomas Vincour will play on Monday night against Edmonton. He's been steady through this bad patch of games so far and wanted to stay the course with his players but that strategy has obviously not worked so far.
The fact that Gulutzan is calling out his players like this and calling out himself is a great sign. The Stars went through a similar issue last season but not once did we hear the sort of honesty about what's hurting this team as we are now.
The Stars have obviously created a problem where the officials on the ice are not going to give them any breaks. Perhaps it's because the Stars are now openly attacking teams physically, laying out an astounding 53 hits last night on the Sharks. Perhaps, like Gulutzan said, it's because this team is letting their emotion come through in their words to the officials, which furthers the problem of the lopsided calls.
"We're going to shut our mouths and we're going to play," said Gulutzan.
That's exactly what needs to happen. This team is working harder and still failing to completely execute and digging themselves into some massive holes with their frustrations. The Stars must realize the only to way to get over this streak and continue to play like we've seen their capable of is to just shut up and play, as harsh as that might sound.
This team is not as bad as we've seen the past five games and they know that. It's time to prove it.