Last week we suggested that what the Dallas Stars really needed was to learn how to work as a true team again and just have some fun. That was before the meltdown against the Sharks, but it's a sentiment that definitely is important after Saturday's meltdown against the Sharks in the third period.
What happened on Saturday was disturbing and exasperating because it was all mental, and it's the best example of the internal struggles this team is fighting through early in the season. The coaches can only control so much, and you can tell how coach Lindy Ruff was frustrated with what happened in the third period -- starting with a bad slashing penalty taken by Jordie Benn early in the third period.
"In the first 40 minutes there was very little bad," said Ruff on Monday. "In the last 20 minutes we just became mentally weak. Mentally, we didn't handle adversity well. That's frustrating, because there's going to be lots of times we're going to have to deal with it. I thought the penalty we took was something that gave San Jose energy, they had nothing until that point, the shots were 28-17. That's the mental part of the game -- a totally unneccesary penalty where we've given the opposition a little bit of a spark in our building. Those are the situations that, mentally, you can't allow and it's got me frustrated."
So what do you do with a team that has changed strategies, changed line combinations and defensive pairings and even recently recalled a defenseman without there being an injury to necessitate the move? Well, you work on that mental aspect and to do that, you have to get the team actually playing together as a team.
What Lindy Ruff had the Stars do on Monday was a fun drill where a group of players must work together as one to inch backwards up the ice while connected together. It's a variation of a drill you'll find in nearly every sport at every level and especially in the armed forces, where working together as a cohesive unit is of the absolute most importance.
When I was in boot camp for the US Navy, there was an exercise where a group of five had to move an injured sailor who was on a backboard through the dangerous confines of an overturned and collapsing ship. The instructors give no direction other than "four hands must be on the backboard at all times" and you have a certain amount of time in which to complete the drill.
The key to the drill, and what the team must instantly find out or they'll fail, is that a leader must emerge to direct the team properly and everyone must buy in and work together or the team will quickly fail. It's stressful, it's dark, it's extremely claustrophobic and it's almost impossible to hear (this is a sinking ship scenario) and the leadership must be clear, concise and get the team moving in the right direction.
While the drill was meant to be fun and something to help break the pressures of this slump the Stars are in, there was an underlying current of the need to have the leaders on the team step up and take charge. The team that won the contest was a group composed of the "grinders" -- the third and fourth line -- who established a leader and then followed direction to complete the drill.
The line composed of the top two lines -- those lines struggled, and Lindy Ruff wasn't too pleased with the outcome.
"It's a drill for teamwork," said Ruff. "Some players on those teams needed to take some leadership and they didn't. I found it interesting, because the only way you succeed is if someone becomes the leader of that group and dictates. We're going to give them another crack down the road but that one group totally failed the test. I heard them talking and trying to get straightened out. It's a fun drill, but it's an interesting drill and they almost didn't even finish."
"Here's a drill in which you're going to have to work together as a team, someone is going to have to grab the bull by the horns, and they didn't get it done," continued Ruff. "It's a fun drill, I liked watching it, but I liked watching the guys in the middle -- the guys were talking to each other, one guy was giving the orders and the guys were following it and teamwork got it done."
Here's what Lindy Ruff had the players doing at the end of practice...everyone has to move as one: pic.twitter.com/ISY60bXp7c— DefendingBigD (@DefendingBigD) November 10, 2014
Now, extrapolating from what Ruff had to say about the drill he's upset that no one stepped up and took charge of that top group, and that could be an indication of the bigger issue at play. When you put a group of "leaders" together and then ask them to work as one there's always the inclination to defer to the leadership of the others, until no one has actually stepped up and taken charge.
The Stars might have been a bit guilty of this during the run, and it could speak to what the Stars really need from Jamie Benn -- there's been too much deferring, both on the ice and in the leadership department, and the Star need someone to really take charge and lead this team forward again.
Drawing conclusions from a throwaway drill at the end of practice can be dangerous, especially as it's meant to be fun, but perhaps there is something to this that speaks to the issues the team has faced early in the season -- the need for clear leadership to step up and do what must be done to get the team back on the right track.
This isn't about needing a player to stand up and start shouting orders during a game, but it's shows the importance of leadership in a group and of making the right decision and making the play when it's needed and leading the rest of the team to accomplish a singular and shared task.
The Stars need more of this, and while one Mighty Ducks-esque drill won't change everything overnight it's a great lesson as to what needs to be done moving forward.
Check out the full video of Lindy Ruff's scrum today, with some short video included of the drill at practice.