On Monday, the Dallas Stars ran practice with yet another configuration for the forward group of lines. While the change was minimal, it is now the 16th different combination of forwards the Stars have either practiced with or played with this season, by our count (which could still be off, it's been tough to track).
In a season full of inconsistency, raised expectations and increased pressures the Stars coaches have apparently done everything they can to adjust and try and get the Stars out of this prolonged funk in which they find themselves, and with each new iteration of the lineup we have to ask -- at what point is this just too much change for the sake of change?
It's clear that many of the fans don't always agree on the line combinations that Lindy Ruff and company have come up with this season, and while that may be the case there's also some logic that the coaches should allow the lines -- whatever they may be -- to at least attempt to find some chemistry and consistency before breaking them up again.
This season, the method has been fairly consistent in its inconsistency -- the Stars have a poor performance, and the lines the next game are different. Lindy Ruff stuck with roughly the same lines during that three-game winning streak and said that he'd like to keep the same lineup as long as things were going well, in order to create a sense of competition in that "if things are going well, you're staying in the lineup."
As soon as the team shows a stumble, or has a bad period or two -- those lines quickly change.
On Monday, during practice, Ruff had the lines looking like this:
Ironically, this is close to the setup that many wanted for the Stars from the moment that Spezza and Hemsky were acquired. Unfortunately, the injury to Valeri Nichushkin has put a damper on the plans for the second line a bit but this is roughly the configuration many have been hoping for. But is it too late? Is it even what we'll see in the game tomorrow night?
What the "ideal" lines are doesn't matter a bit anymore, because now it seems the big issue for the team is trying to find any sort of consistency between games and between periods. There's a thought that, even if there was a poor performance, sticking with the same lines from game to game could help the players start to find their way.
Mike Heika expanded upon this thought for his observations over the weekend after that belly flop of a loss to Colorado.
The captain hasn't scored in 11 games, and Ruff has to have a few talks with Jamie Benn.
Ryan Garbutt continues to battle discipline problems at the most inopportune times, and Ruff has to lay out some stringent guidelines for the scrappy winger.
Ales Hemsky can't score a goal 20-something games into his Stars career, and Ruff the grizzled blueliner and tough winger has to offer advice on how a scorer can score.
It's been a hectic year for the veteran bench boss.
But when you picture the coaching staff scrambling around and seeking solutions on an almost daily basis, it does paint a picture of inconsistency. The Stars have struggled to win two games in a row this season, and that sends the coaches back to the laptop to come up with something different. The lines are changed, the defense pairs are changed, the power play is changed. Do they want to sit back and defend a lead in the third period? Do they want to adopt a "safe is death" mentality and go-go-go?
It really is a mystery to most of us on the outside...and it might be one of the reasons for the inconsistency on the inside.
This isn't a complete teardown of Lindy Ruff, however, because it is very clear that he's doing everything he thinks he needs to do in order to fix the problems. He's been putting out one fire after another just to have a new one pop up, as the problems the Stars have fought through this season haven't been very consistent in nature either.
Ruff has met with players individually, they've made significant personnel changes on defense, the breakout strategies have changed and how the Stars have attempted to move through the neutral zone has also changed. The Stars have not been a team so far this season that has not had the "effort" or the "compete" and you can't claim they aren't playing hard for their coach; in fact, there's times it seems the Stars are trying too hard.
Yet the pressure to succeed has never been greater, especially with the changes made over the summer and so far this season, and that could be another factor in why we're seeing so many quick changes.
And that's possibly one of the reasons Ruff is scrambling so much. He too is feeling the pressure, he too is squeezing his stick (or lineup card) a little harder than in the past. He might understand better than anyone the elevated expectations the league had for his team this season.
While Saturday's 5-2 loss in Denver was a stinker on so many fronts, most NHL observers have not criticized the Stars' effort this season. The general feeling is they work hard, but they don't work smart.
The same might be said for the coaching staff. They are ripping through video every day and putting in long hours. Ruff had a meeting with Trevor Daley on Saturday, trying to get the pulse of his alternate captain, who has been struggling on defense. They are working very hard to fix this thing, and that's adding to the frustration.
Likewise, a team seeking consistency is pulling its hair out.
There is no need to discuss whether Lindy Ruff is the "right" coach for the Stars, as that is not a change that is happening any time soon. It's the easiest way for fans to want change to happen, but for now the Stars are going to continue to try and work and pull out of this and try and prove that despite what the numbers may say with each passing game -- this is not the team the Dallas Stars actually are, and they can still get back to the level of play they believe they are capable of.
Here's Lindy Ruff talking with the media on Monday, and he talks about how after Saturday's loss his team has now 'reset' and is looking for a fresh start on the season.