The Dallas Stars started off the game against Minnesota with the right idea. Through 20 minutes it was actually a really good road game after a horribly disappointing loss the night before, and the Stars looked confident and pretty much on their game. Like so many other times this season, that confidence didn't last very long and Minnesota took full control during another disastrous second period on the way to a 4-1 loss to the Wild.
Most indicative of the issues of the past few weeks and of this game itself is how the Stars allowed a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage actually turn into momentum for the Wild in the first period. The Stars had been playing well but as soon as the power play began, the skating stopped and the movement stopped and it instantly devolved into pass-pass-pass-pass-turnover. And suddenly the energetic and promising start was erased, and all of the wind was quickly gone from their sails.
"There's energy missing in our game," said Lindy Ruff. "It's as simple as that. We're getting beat to pucks, we're not winning the small battles, it's as simple as that. The energy level on our team isn't good enough to win games. We started off good, but slowly the energy level declined and they took over the game. That's something we take pride in, keeping the energy of the game up, the speed of the game up. The last few games haven't been good for that."
The Stars are certainly going through a rough patch here at the start of the season and while this has been stated several times the past few weeks, now it's up to the players and the team to figure out a way to keep this from continuing on further. I stated before the Wild game that good teams are those that don't let poor play become a trend; every team will have it's struggles, but the best ones are those that figure it out and correct the issues rather than letting them continue on unfixed.
I don't normally post these charts in my observations, but this actually tells the story of the game absolutely perfectly. You can see that the Stars and Wild were fairly even overall in the game -- and then the Stars received a power play, and then the 5-on-3. Watch how the failure of that power play gave way to a flatlined Stars offense and all sorts of momentum for the Wild.
In the second period, the Stars drew a penalty but once again were ineffective with the man-advantage -- which led to a Wild goal less than a minute after the power play expired. The Stars were able to get the score right back to a one-goal game quickly thereafter, but it's another sign of the Stars failing to seize momentum when given every chance to do so.
What's most interesting is that when you look at the chart for overall shot attempts, up until the Wild's third goal, the Stars were seemingly playing them closely. The eye test didn't quite match this, however, as those shot attempts rarely ended in a legitimate scoring chance or even an actual shot on net. The Stars struggled all game with getting space to get shots through traffic, same as what happened against the Ducks the night before and you can see how the Stars offense went completely silent once that third goal was scored.
The power play goal for the Wild with less than a minute remaining in the second period, sent the Stars over the wrong edge. Jamie Benn took a very dubious holding penalty along the boards and the Wild score their first power play goal of the entire season to take a two-goal lead into the locker room.
It was demoralizing, and the Stars reacted in the exact opposite way in which they needed.
Dallas will have a chance to quickly get things figured out as the Los Angeles Kings come to town on Tuesday -- certainly a simple and pushover team without much defense or goaltending to really help get the confidence back where it needs to be.
Just a final, quick thought -- it's interesting how quickly expectations and perceptions change for a team's performance. This is seen as a wholly unacceptable game by the fans; in recent years, the narrative coming out of a loss like this would have been much different. At least on some levels.