The ups and downs of an 82 game schedule are perilous for the faint of heart, Dallas Stars fans.
The team loses three in a row on the road in November: Their road problems from last year haven't been fixed and they're doomed. They win six in a row: They're heroes. They lose three of four to Western Conference teams on the road in December and they're not for real. They start January 7-0-1: They're going to win the division!
Now they've lost five of six. To good teams. Very good teams. What do we say to that?
This is just another swing of the pendulum, right? We'll all keep an even keel and wait for the inevitable up-tick in fortune. We won't jump off any metaphorical bridges in the mean time.
As a community we'll just point to their largest problem and say "That. They need to fix that."
And then we run into a slight problem. They've lost in a high scoring game to Calgary, a blowout to Vancouver, a brawl to Boston, a close game to Philly. They've experienced problems with goaltending, penalty killing, power play, even strength scoring, faceoffs, defensive coverage, and perhaps most of all: health.
So where do we point that finger? Is there a singular issue that can shoulder that kind of blame?
The truth, as usual, is probably hidden somewhere between the extremes. This slump has prompted commentaries by fans ranging anywhere from "This is the team we thought they'd be, this defense sucks. We can't win with such a small payroll, it's been a mirage." to "If they just get Jamie Benn back then all of this would fix itself." (Seriously. You should see our inboxes.)
Any number of fixes could right the ship.
The power play, 1 for it's last 21, could connect. This might solve that little problems with the short handed goals against as well. The goaltending, regardless of who's in net, could come up big like it did in the first half of the season. The onus should never be on one man and defending is a team-wise activity but stealing a game in net is a good way to build some confidence. The forecheck could generate some offense: Sustained cycling, offense off the rush in transition... whatever the case may be, the Stars are lacking it right now. Aside from Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards who is producing regularly?
The specifics, when you're losing games regularly by such gargantuan goal differentials (though thankfully not last night), are not really important. What seems pertinent now is a return to the fundamentals.
Witness Saturday night's third goal against by the Flyers. For what felt like the third or fourth time in the game Philadelphia had sent the puck in deep to complete a line change. This is universally accepted as a surrender of possession. Except they did not, because the Stars failed over and over again to get the puck across their own blue line while four out of five Flyers were changing at the bench. Tired Stars were left in their own zone with fresh Flyers buzzing. You know the rest.
A confident team makes that play. A confident team evacuates it's zone quickly. A confident team does not surrender short handed opportunities against. A confident team does not capitulate at the blue line.
The problems can be enumerated. They can be dissected. We could go through them one at a time and analyze them separately, but that's a fruitless exercise. I've seen this team this season. I've seen them at their jovial best, and now we've seen these gut wrenching post game interviews when they're at their lowest and we can all recognize that the fix is not so mechanical as all of that. There's no one screw to tighten. The remedy is belief. It was there but now it's AWOL.
The real question is how do the Stars re-gain their confidence and composure?
The conclusion is as inescapable as it is moronic:
"Create traffic in front of the net. Win your draws. Keep your gap. Get in the shooting lanes. Get sticks in the passing lanes," and every other hockey cliche and "player speak" there is out there. It's the details. The same details the Stars themselves have been talking about all season long. There is no quick fix.
A lucky bounce in the early stages of a game might help as well, but the road to recovery is a grind: Every second of every shift.
The game against the Flyers looked like a good first step. In a hostile environment as heavy underdogs they competed and could be proud of their effort. Could the same be said for the Boston game? The Canucks games?
It's that pride that will compel them to get better. Every day for each other. Or the season will perish in the effort. Three days of practice (something they haven't had in nearly a month) is a good way to get started.