The Dallas Stars set off on another Canadian road trip, traveling through Edmonton with the hopes of righting a sinking ship. The Stars have been struggling mightily ever since coming through Canada just three weeks ago and had the chance to put the season back on track in the same place where everything started to fall apart.
Through 19 minutes, the injury-depleted team fought hard and showed flashes of the team that once was. A late power play goal for the Oilers erased any good feelings the Stars might have had and the Oilers would go on to easily win 4-1 in a game that was really and truly never close.
The Oilers received timely goaltending that saved them from early miscues. The Stars did not.
The Oilers took advantage of their special teams opportunities. The Stars did not.
The Oilers won the battles along the boards and executed on their offensive chances. The Stars did not.
All in all this was a boring, completely inconsequential game that resembled a preseason contest more than an insanely important hockey game in mid-February. The Stars, after allowing another power play goal in the second period, seemingly lost all sense of confidence and awareness of what had made them a great hockey team through 51 games. Despite pulling within a goal late in the second period, the Stars never mounted a full attack and within three minutes found themselves down three goals.
Right now, the Dallas Stars just don't have enough firepower or skill. They don't have enough chemistry. There's too much change, too much that is so different from just a month ago that the team we watched on the ice tonight seems to be nothing more than a complete stranger. Most of all, the Dallas Stars have lost every bit of swagger and self confidence that was the backbone of their success through the first half of the season.
The Stars head to Calgary tomorrow tonight, to face a team that is one of the hottest in the NHL and has now pushed itself back into the playoff picture. The Stars are now in 5th place in the Western Conference and by the end of the week, could more than likely find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture and looking in. It's been a long, painful fall and it's not over yet.
The Flames are a good example of how a team can turn it around. There's still time for the Dallas Stars, but time is quickly running out. I don't think there's really anything else that needs to be said.
Specific -- yet abbreviated -- thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.
- The best players on the ice tonight for the Stars were Tomas Vincour and Jason Williams. You love seeing th potential a young player like Vincour is showing during his time in the NHL, and it's great to have Williams making a difference on the team in just his 2nd game with the Stars. Yet when the Stars are without four very important and key players, you don't want two fringe players to be the best you have. You need Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Loui Eriksson and James Neal to step it up and take over. That didn't happen tonight and you could say that it hasn't happened in a very long time. This is the basis for what is happening to the team right now and frankly it's frightening to watch.
- For most of this season, the success of the Stars hinged on the goaltending. We said all along that the goaltending was covering up some very disturbing traits on this team and now that Lehtonen is showing some wear and tear -- the Stars are being exposed. What's amazing is that early in the season the defense was confident and actually showed signs of improvement in front of Lehtonen -- as if his stellar play made them better as a unit. Now, all that progress has been reversed. No longer is the defense making a difference in offensive chances. No longer is the defense maintaining perfect gap control. We're seeing a defense fall apart in front of our eyes and tonight -- despite most goals coming on the power play -- the Stars showed just how many holes truly exist on the blue line.
- Tomas Vincour is a beast and he's quickly gaining some fans, but none of it matters unless he scores. He told me last year that he wants to be known as a hard-working goal scorer. I know he's only played a handful of NHL games, but when you start generating as many chances as he has, expectations begin to rise. The Stars need him to actually make a difference on the scoreboard.
- I'll say it again: When times get tough, you need your best players to step up. Morrow, Ribeiro and Neal all failed to do so tonight. James Neal is now a shell of his former self, from just two years ago.
- If there was any better example of how far the Stars have fallen this season, it was during the middle portion of the second period. The Stars had just allowed the second power play goal of the night to Edmonton and the Oilers seized all the momentum and took control of the game. The Stars, on multiple occasions, were caught doing nothing more than just standing around and watching the puck. Literally standing around, and then reacting.
It's a very, very bad sign when an entire hockey team falls to the point of nothing more than just a reaction. It's not exactly "giving up" but it's a pure sign of a loss of confidence, that the game is now moving at a pace and you've been so frustrated where your mind begins to slow your body and you lose the ability to proactively attack and control the play. You're left standing there to do nothing more than react as the play occurs and by that time it's way too late to be effective. The Stars were lethargic on defense, they were lethargic on offense and by the time they finally figured out how to get their legs moving in the right direction at the right speed -- the game was already over.
- As much as you'd like to say the injuries are why the Stars are losing, it's painfully obvious that something more is happening and the Stars have no answer on how to correct it.
- The Stars had some great chances, especially in the first period, and weren't able to convert. Earlier in the season this would not have phased the team, but now you can see the life going out of the sails with every goal not scored. It's a bad, bad sign. As frustrating as the goaltending and defense can be, the Stars offense has been the worst aspect of the team throughout this entire slump.
- Finally: Jamie Langenbrunner is not making Joe Nieuwendyk look good right now. He's playing lazy, he's not playing with any heart, he's reaching too much and he's creating way too many mistakes and turnovers than offensive chances. It's so sad to see and it's even more frustrating to type, but we are starting to see why New Jersey was eager to trade him away.
Defending Big D's Three Stars of the Game:
Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton
Shawn Horcoff, Edmonton
Ales Hemsky, Edmonton