The Dallas Stars are having a hard time matching wits with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Dallas goes to Pittsburgh and gets shellacked 5-1. The Coyotes go there and take a 3-2 decision.
The Coyotes go to Los Angeles last week and best the Kings at this most critical time of year. The Stars go to Chicago and the Blackhawks wipe the proverbial floor with them.
The Stars lose their everything-netminder, number-one supremo, and fall apart for nine days. The Coyotes lose Mike Smith and pull three points out of Madison Square Garden and Crosby's place in back-to-back nights.
No, it's not looking good.
And it's maddening. Look at what the Coyotes do. They get out-shot by the Rangers, by a lot, and pull a point. They get out-shot by Florida twice in nine days and win both games. (Florida, twice in nine days, at this time of year? How nice). Tampa Bay, Calgary, Los Angeles- Outshot, outshot, outshot.
The smart money says that's no way to win hockey games, but their last seven point-earning games they've been out-shot or out-attempted.
Now look closer at what the Coyotes do. While the Stars were, you know, whatever that was, I was watching the Penguins try desperately to get anywhere near whoever took over for Mike Smith in the third period last night. They were unsuccesful. The shots were there. The paperwork looked good. The quality, however, was extraordinarily poor. Phoenix did not let them near the goods. They just let them look a little through the window.
It was a far, far cry from the Stars' approach in attempting to protect a lead from the Jets on Monday night. Because they have the structure. They have the personnel. They're built that way. They know how to do it, and they're a more experienced team.
Not a team with more experience on it, but a more experienced team. Yandle, Michalek, Hanzal, Vrbata, Doan, Moss, Vermette, Boedker... Tippett. They've been doing this longer. They know what they want. They've been to the show a couple of times.
It's a style that keeps them in games. It's a style with a better clamp-down after taking a lead. It's a style that's seen them, and the Predators, in the playoffs quite a bit in recent years. They've been different this year- more wide open at times, it's true. But if you're watching these games in March you know what the Coyotes are about. It's more of the same.
Then you look at Dallas, 9th in the entire NHL in Corsi% (shots attempted), while Phoenix is 19th.
This is the part where faith comes in. It's in short supply in this 3-4 week span, generally, before peaking in early July, but that's what we're dealing with on a morning like this after a double slap in the face like that.
There is a style that wins games in the playoffs. Goaltending, and special teams, sure. Those are good, old cliches. Puck possession is the name of the game, though. Kings, Pens, Blackhawks. Puck possession.
The Stars appear to be banking on theirs being the better style, when it eventually works. When it's ready. When the dough rises and it's really ready to go in to the oven. When Jim Nill has assembled his new ingredients and let a few others age a bit.
The Coyotes' style gets them into the post-season sometimes. Nothing ever comes of it. The Stars are taking the long way around in hopes that theirs will be more threatening when the time comes, carrying them to contender status, potentially, rather than the perennial fringe contestant Phoenix is.
But nights like last night are enough to shake that faith a little. "Why don't we play like that?" "Why don't we play it cautiously?" "Why don't we watch these teams run around and then counter-punch on the mistakes?" "It works for Phoenix."
We know why. It's just brutal to watch nights like Tuesday unfold. The math starts looking really bad when the Coyotes walk into Pittsburgh and it's no problem.
The Stars, 9-11-5 against the Central (oy), will have to face similar long odds when they visit St. Louis on the second night of a back-to-back Saturday. They've got to learn to find a way as a team. Like Phoenix usually does.