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Is It Time to Question the Stars' Mental Toughness?

As has been mentioned on this blog before, what the Stars are going through right now is nothing new. The last two years, the Stars have suffered not one, not two, but three fatal second half downward spirals.

Last year the Stars went into the Olympic Break with a 3-0 win over Phoenix, which was perhaps the most impressive win of the season. Their record stood at 28-21-12, good for 68 points and just one behind Calgary for the final playoff spot.

Then came the post-Olympic break collapse as they lost 6 of 7 to open up the 21 game stretch. Detroit caught fire during this stretch and left a gaggle of teams they had been fighting with for those last playoff spots in their dust, including Dallas which fell seven points behind the Red Wings.

Two years ago, the Stars opened a season high six game homestand with a 4-2 over Edmonton on February 19th to put them in 7th in the Western Conference and just one point behind Columbus for the 5th seed. It also gave them a four point cushion over 9th place Anaheim.

At that time, it appeared the Stars were in good position to solidify a playoff spot, in spite of all the injury problems they suffered that season with Brenden Morrow and Sergei Zubov sidelined for the year.

Instead, they lost the last five games on the homestand to fall to 11th on March 2nd.

Dallas did respond by going 4-2-1 in their next seven games to get back into the 7th seed. Albeit, just one point ahead of 9th seed Edmonton on March 14th.

And then a seven game losing streak concluding with a 6-5 OT loss to Phoenix on March 30th was the final death knell for the Stars that season. That loss to the Coyotes left the Stars in 12th place and seven points behind St. Louis, who had charged up to 8th at that point in the season after falling to dead last in the West.

Now I realize that all clubs go through peaks and valleys during a season. And two years ago, you could probably suggest the Stars could use injuries and a general lack of experience as an excuse.

Last year, you could probably use the lowered internal budget as an excuse.

This year, it's back to injuries.

But at what point do we look at each of these instances and suggest that this team may not be as mentally tough as we thought they were?

I'll analyze after the jump.

As I was watching last night's game, I couldn't help but notice the absences. No, not Brad Richards, Adam Burish, or Nicklas Grossman.

Where was Brenden Morrow? Where was Mike Ribeiro? Loui Eriksson ended his goal drought last night thanks in large part to a pretty stretch pass from the newest Dallas Star, Jason Williams.

But he had been largely absent in many of the games before going three of the previous four games without recording a single shot.

And on defense last night, the Stars penalty kill was marked by too much complacency...

And while I'm busy calling other players out, I'll also include Jamie Langenbrunner. Last Wednesday, he had a horrible night against Phoenix, failing to clear a puck while killing a penalty. Moments later, Phoenix tied the game. And as Radim Vrbata was pulling his toe drag before firing the puck past Kari Lehtonen for the OT winner that's provided the impetus behind the Coyotes' latest winning streak, guess who was in the penalty box?

Yep, Lags.

Now I'm not here to pin any of these losing streaks on just one player. But as I look at the common denominators in each losing streak, one thing stands out to me.

A lack of leadership from the core guys on this team at a time when they really needed it. I think back to that home game against Montreal on March 8th where the Stars had numerous chances with the man advantage in the first period to extend a first period lead. They failed to do so and Montreal came back to win, 3-1.

I think back to the first game out of the Olympic Break against Los Angeles where the Stars defense allowed the Kings to run roughshod over them at a time where Dallas really could have used a statement game to kick off the Post-Olympic stretch.

And last night, the Stars could have used a statement game of sorts to show the rest of the division they weren't just going to lay down after the finally surrendering the Pacific Division lead after 79 days.

Instead, Shawn Horcoff and the rest of the Oilers carved up the Stars defense, leading to this ssomewhat ironic quote from Brenden Morrow last night:

"With the exception of our goalie, there wasn't a lot of desperation in our team. They worked harder than us and tipped the ice in their favor. Every point's important, and we're letting things slip away."

After missing the playoffs the last two seasons, the last thing the Stars should ever be accused of in any game is a lack of desperation. If that doesn't invite questioning of this team's mental toughness, I'm not sure what does.