There's been many times Dallas Stars fans have thrown up their hands in frustration this season, thinking to themselves "Why can't think group just be more like last year's team? You know, the one that made the playoffs on offense, timely goaltending and gutty wins?"
It's a fair question given some of the frustrating nights the Stars have gone through, but when you look through the numbers, something jumps out. Through the same point of the season, this year's Stars are almost exactly the same as last year's version.
Through 47 games this season, the Stars are 21-19-7, sixth in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference.
Through 47 games last season, the Stars were 21-19-7, tied for fifth place in the Central Division and 10th in the Western Conference. The only material difference between the two seasons is the games in hand situation.
And it only got worse last season, at least in the short term. The Stars were mired in that ugly January skid and would pick up only one point in the next two games before finally snapping out of it. By the time it was all said and done, after an ugly 4-1 loss to the Predators, the Stars were one point out of last in the Central and 12th in the conference.
Of course, that version of the Stars was able to find itself as the the defense came around. While the offense certainly came around, the team allowed three or more goals only twice in the 10 games as it rocketed up the standings with a 7-1-2 stretch.
Is that possible for this year's team? You'd like to hope so, and the underlying numbers say many trends are relatively similar (at least through a full season).
After 82 games, last year's Stars were 16-8-11 in one-goal games (.457), 5-10 in two-goal games (.333) and 19-13 in three-goal games (.594, and the only category where they were top 10 in the league). This time out, Dallas is 12-5-7 in one-goal games (.500), 4-7 in two-goal games (.367) and 5-7 in three-goal games (.417).
That three-goal game stat is obviously the big difference right now. While the Stars are actually better in close games this year, they are getting blown out more, though it should also be noted they are on pace to play far fewer three-goal games this year than last.
Another area that sticks out is holding on to leads, where the numbers back up the eye test. The Stars were 28-11-4 last season when scoring first, good for a .651 winning percentage but only 21st in rank. They were basically average when giving up the lead early, ranking 14th with a 12-20-7 record and .308 win percentage.
The eye test says the Stars have had more problems holding onto leads this year, and that bears out. They are 25th in the league with a 14-8-3 record and .560 win percentage, and they are basically the same when being scored on first with a 9-11-9 record (.318).
Even the overtime record is the same. Dallas was tied for 27th last year with six overtime and shootout wins and tied for 29th this year with two wins in that situation. They are getting to overtime slightly less - 19 percent of their games compared to 23, which represents about three total points in the standings.
The moral of all these numbers is the more things change, the more they stay the same apparently. And perhaps what could be taken from it is the Stars ran off basically two big winning runs that got them into the playoffs - that 7-1-2 stretch became a 11-3-3 run when combined with games after the Olympic break, and a 5-1 streak from the end of March into early April allowed them to win every other game until the end of the season and stay ahead of the struggling Coyotes.
They also were able to overcome an ill-timed three-game winless streak in that as well as bad losses to hapless teams like Carolina and Florida. Last year's Stars were far from perfect in the back half of the season.
Of course, last year was an aberration in that 91 points usually doesn't get a team into the playoffs. You can make a very reasonable argument that what they did last year won't be enough this time around.
What's really changed the most are the expectations. Most last year didn't think the Stars would make the playoffs at all, that it was the front-end of a rebuilt offense with some work to do on the blue line. Getting to the playoffs was a happy surprise for a team with brand new everything.
This year, while hardly expected to be Cup contenders, many thought the Stars would slide more comfortably into a playoff position, perhaps as the third team out of the Central or first wildcard rather than second. The offense was designed to be a juggernaut to cover up the holes that remained in the defensive zone.
And of course, some of the problems are different. Kari Lehtonen was brilliant for much of last season but struggling so far in this one. The scoring has gone through frustrating dry droughts. Others remain the same, such as the frustrating power play and occasional coverage flubs.
Yet overall the results haven't changed all that much, and that can either been seen as a frustrating factor of non-improvement or encouragement that despite the struggles of this season, the Stars haven't exactly gone backwards. At least not yet.