If you follow your favorite sports team close enough and for long enough, you start to recognize the familiar rhythms of a season. You can sense the problems compounding, the slides ending, and the peaks for what they are.
You may remember, dear friends, if you have really and truly stuck with us through the bad years, the Stars and the legendary "Warrior Sword" riding off into the sunset for a Western Canadian road swing in January of 2011 after having rattled off points in eight straight games- Only to lose 11 of their next 13 and fall out of the race altogether.
Similarly you might recall a big win in Washington over the Capitals and a bumper-car outing (something like that) in the fall of 2011 that saw the Stars off to an 11-3-0 start and puffed out chests ahead of, clunk, a five-game losing streak and another playoff-less year.
Those occasions were marked with unapologetic optimism, attention lavished by national media on both sides of the border, and bouts of unbridled confidence by the faithful.
Sunday night felt a lot like that. A victory over the Blues. A 3-0-1 answer to a huge Central division marathon of a test surrounding Christmas. Lots of talk about having beaten Montreal, Washington, St. Louis, and Chicago. Plenty of national acclaim.
It kind of felt like one of those peaks. This season is different, though. There's no questioning that. It won't have been a peak, but it does come ahead of a bit of a tricky situation.
A huge game awaits them on New Years Eve as the hated Nashville Predators show on the schedule for the season's first time. Ahead of that, however, and after the emotional wars against Ken Hitchcock's henchmen, sits this contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The league's best team, by record, against the league's worst team, by record. After that emotional win against St. Louis. This is an odd little spot for the Stars tonight, and it screams trap game.
The Blue Jackets are just kind of a mess. Locker room trouble as much as on-ice issues plague them, and it's very public.
See this excerpt from the Columbus Post-Dispatch-
"I've always felt, and I've told you this earlier, conflict is a good thing," Tortorella said. "It needs to be about ... it's man on man, it's men speaking ... if you have conflict, you know there's some honesty there, and one party isn't happy with what's being said. That's very important as we go through here and keep teaching.
"There needs to be some dialogue. It doesn't have to be a **** you, back and forth. It has to be ‘this is what I saw,' or ‘this is what I thought I should be doing.' I think that's very important for a team. Have we gotten there? No. We haven't gotten there."
Tortorella did not spare himself of blame, either. On the job for more than two months now, he said repeatedly that he's "embarrassed." The club is 13-15-3 since he took over on Oct. 21.
"There's a lot of work to be done, and it's not so much the physical but the mental," Tortorella said. "I'm surprised with some of the thinking that I think needs to change. I'll be honest with you: I'm embarrassed, me, that I haven't been able to get this team to the crossroads, those intersections you work through when you're building a team and you try to get a team to play the right way. [Post Dispatch]
That is but a small passage from a fascinating posting that you should read ahead of this one tonight.
They've lost three in a row, getting out-scored 13-6 by Tampa, Pittsburgh, and the surging Florida Panthers. They took a boat load of penalties in that stretch (18! in three games) and saw the opposition score five times on the power play.
Despite their worst-in-the-league point total they have really been pretty competitive in their home arena, collecting points in eight of their last ten there with a 5-2-3 mark in that stretch. That having been said, they have treated their home crowd to 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, and 2 goals in their last six there. Not exactly what Stars fans have seen at the AAC.
Sergei Bobrovsky is close to returning, which would help stop their bleeding and apparent bickering- But it may not be tonight. Reports from Blue Jacket practice were that he was looking good yesterday, but the smoke surrounding him says he won't go tonight. We shall see.