Something is better than nothing, right?
For the Dallas Stars, walking away from back to back games against St. Louis and Detroit with one out of four points -- while disappointing -- was certainly a favorable outcome considering the adversity they're working through with Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro on the shelf. While it was certainly frustrating to see the Stars lose twice in two nights, its encouraging to see consistent effort from a team that has fought all season long with maintaining their drive from game to game.
With their backs against the walls, you can see that the Dallas Stars understand just how crucial these points at stake each game are. With Benn and Ribeiro out, each player on the ice has more and more pressure to perform at a higher level and take up the slack, forcing the Stars to play a team game at a higher level than ever before.
Unfortunately, these past two games have been against two of the best teams in hockey and it's been clearly obvious just what the gap is in skill level between the Stars and their opponents without their top two centers in the game. That doesn't diminish the performances of the players still healthy, however, who have taken both teams to the limits on consecutive nights.
"I think you got to stay with the process," said Brenden Morrow said, who had a power play goal in the first period. "If you start cheating and try to find an easy way, things go the other way in a hurry. I think if we just keep with it, keep doing the things we’re doing and build off the things that we’re doing positive, the breaks will come."
In this game, against the Red Wings, the breaks went in the direction of the other team. That's just how it goes, especially with the Stars this season.
The Stars, having gone through a number of poor efforts on the second night of a back-to-back, came out with a purpose against the Red Wings on Tuesday night. Once again showing their focus on physicality, the Stars dominated utilizing their forecheck and created numerous chances by funneling the puck to the net, something that has been an issue for this team for most of the season.
A perfect example of this came late in the first period after the Red Wings had tied the game 1-1, when Loui Eriksson was able to pound home a rebound off a Sheldon Souray shot. Eriksson, not exactly known for his gritty screening skills, found the loose puck and whacked it so hard into the net he broke his stick on the play.
"We just got traffic in front and Souray shot it to the net and I was able to find the rebound there and it was nice to see it go in," said Eriksson. "That’s the type of goals we need to score. We had two of those tonight and we need to keep getting those kinds of goals."
The Stars, facing the next week or so with their top two playmakers at center, have simplified their game according to necessity. It's not something that many teams want to do, as it lowers your chances at scoring consistently, but for the Stars this could actually be a great thing. This season, even while enjoying several games of high offensive numbers, the Stars have fought with consistency from game to game; with Benn and Ribeiro out, they seem to have found a way to build that consistency with hard work and grit around the net.
More importantly, simplifying their approach offensively has led to more chances around the net and less "look for the perfect pass" sort of plays that had victimized this team for most of the season.
The Stars, while they are certainly capable of scoring big goals at times, are inconsistent with their offense and see their top players fall into slumps and become guilty of pushing too hard -- this method of simplification takes that out of their approach and in the process has built for a better team game overall.
Once again, these improvements in the games almost feel wasted in losing efforts, as the Stars played another great game only to fall just short yet again. Glen Gulutzan, going through his toughest test yet as an NHL head coach, knows that while the losses are disappointing there's still plenty of positives to take away from these games and build upon them.
"You don't want to give up points, especially in your own building," noted Gulutzan. "But I have to judge everything by work ethic and these last two nights, we put in the work. Did we get the result? No, but did we put in the effort? Yes, both nights, and for that, that's the positive for our group. The kick side is, when you put in that kind of effort, you need to get points. We got one tonight, but had we done that last night and got two out of these four points, we'd probably have been okay about that, so that's why we wanted that second point."
Showing great effort in a tough situation against two very good teams is one thing, but the Stars must continue to build upon that this weekend when facing two teams that have struggled for the past few months. While only getting one-of-four points against the Red Wings and Blues -- considering the circumstances -- is forgivable, the Stars absolutely must find a way to get at least two points against Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
These great efforts of the past two games have been great to see and show just how different this team is compared to last season. With their top players missing last year, the Stars folded and showed little fortitude in putting together anything close to resembling a "gritty effort" -- and they fell out of the playoff race because of it.
This season, in a crucial stretch of the schedule, the Stars are showing more resolve than ever before. With players like Vernon Fiddler, Loui Eriksson, Trevor Daley and Mark Fistric stepping up, the Stars have all the chance in the world to get through this rough patch and continue to fight for the postseason. After all, theyr'e just one point out of 8th in the West -- not too bad considering the circumstances.