For the third Monday morning in a row Dallas Stars fans are looking for answers. The pure joy of taking the Western Conference by surprise has been gone nearly a month now, and reality is setting in with each passing disappointment on the ice: This team could very, very easily miss the playoffs.
25 days ago that was an absurd thing to say. 25 days ago the last of us curmudgeonly, stubborn pessimists were begrudgingly admitting that yes, this team was definitely going to make the playoffs. Since then their lead has evaporated, they've had more guys go on IR than they've collected points (5), and they're now squarely in the middle of the pack of teams tightly bunched together, separated by a minuscule four points, 3rd seed through 10th.
For the third Monday in a row we're lamenting the special teams and counting the wounded. We've added Nick Grossman to the list with a groin pull. Jamie Benn is not thought to be close. Adam Burish is weeks away. Barch. Petersen. These are big chunks of the lineup. Even the list of call-ups is dwindling with D Philip Larsen ailing in Cedar Park.
I've been told that re-running the same blogs from last week would be intellectually dishonest but the content would bear a close resemblance. I will say this: Kari Lehtonen had what I would call a good week, so at least there's that.
Last Monday we were calling the Philadelphia game a good step on the road to recovery. The 3-2 loss to Phoenix that followed netted them an OT point and they certainly dominated stretches of that one. Another step. The comeback against Chicago felt wonderful and it seemed that slow and steady climb out of the hole was nearing completion. A win against the lowly Blue Jackets and they'd be on their way, ready to face a difficult road swing.
Apparently the offense didn't get that part of the script...
The power play connected in the Chicago and Blue Jacket games and went 2 for 12 on the home stand altogether, but it's just not good enough. If one part of the game is going to slump then other parts need to pick it up. Kari Lehtonen picked up the slack for the defense on a number of occasions but the PP didn't for the even strength offense.
2 for 12 (16%) isn't terrible but the Stars have enjoyed 24% at home this season, good for 4th best home PP in the NHL. Now they go out on the road with their 12.1% PP in even more need of W's.
Even strength offense has been nearly as hard to come by. They've scored only 11 even strength goals in their last 8 games. In their last 11 games they've reached 4 goals only ONCE: The 7-4 loss in Calgary. (And no, we're not counting the empty net goal in EDM for such a stat.)
The goaltending needed a good talking to after the 7-4 and 7-1 drubbings to end January. The defensive effort as a whole needed a tongue lashing after the VAN, BOS and PHI outings, and this week it's the offense that gets the finger pointed in it's direction. Six goals in a three game home stand just doesn't cut it.
That's probably unfair, of course. Every time they shore up one part of their game they spring another leak. The team as a whole looks intimidated most nights. Phoenix, Chicago and Columbus all came out and imposed their will on the Stars in first periods. They dictated and the Stars reacted. Dallas nearly always does get their feet under themselves at some point and push back but sooner or later you want to see them be the ones to impose their will on someone else. Even in the best of times this year they weren't doing that, and that's the really troubling part about all of this.
We thought the comeback win against Chicago could restore their confidence and mop up some of these problems in the process, and had a bounce or two gone their way today that might have been the narrative being written this morning, but it didn't happen, and it's not.
It's just the same old questions on a crummy Monday: Is it just bad scheduling? Is it just the injuries? Is it just a slump like everyone has at some point of the season? Did they just get beat by a hot goaltender? At least they're not losing the way they were in Boston and Vancouver, right? Right?
Excuses are nice but when you lose 7 of 9 they start to lose their (bitter)sweetness. Results are all that matter now.
And if you're starting to think that I am not really taking this anywhere, you're right. Try talking to your Dallas Stars fan-friends and see if the conversation follows cogent points on it's way to drawing an articulate conclusion about all this. We're just a bunch of raving lunatics right now wondering if our favorite team is the goat it currently resembles.
For now I'll just say, because I always discourage folks from getting too high when the things are good, that we shouldn't get too down when things are bad either. Unless they go winless this week on the road.