Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together
When Radek Faksa is throwing haphazard passes into opposing forwards, you know something is terribly wrong.
When long-range shots go off the crossbar, off Khudobin’s skate, then directly into the net, you know something is terribly unfortunate.
When you haven’t won a hockey game in six months, you just know that everything seems terrible.
The sky may not be falling—and it’s really not, given that these last couple of games were only ever a bonus opportunity to move up a couple of spots in terms of playoff seeding—but it’s hard to see any silver lining on the looming clouds of doubt that cover this team right now.
Even Denis Gurianov breakaways aren’t working for the Stars, and that’s really bad news for a team that’s scored in just one of nine periods since the restart. When even their few dangerous weapons aren’t finishing the job, it’s hard not to give in to despair around this team.
Is it time to go full Kent Brockman?
The most frustrating thing about this Stars team this year has been its inconsistency. But, aha! That also means the Stars haven’t been consistently bad—they have lured us in with good stretches, one of which immediately followed another certain nine-game run of nonsense. They say you can only ever feel hate where love used to exist.
Do the Stars really still have another gear? As Wes mentioned on the podcast last night, sometimes the team acts as though they do; as if they were a team with skins on the wall, ready to flip the switch when things really mattered. Chicago, for instance, is finding ways to do so even now. Granted, the Hawks haven’t won anything since before the Stars’ best season in eons, but through a combination of exciting young talent and perennially strong players performing like team leaders—remember when Benn and Seguin could be spoken of alongside Kane and Toews without it sounding absurd?—Chicago is managing to do something exciting.
That’s all fans really want, right now, of the Dallas Stars. For them to show they care enough to grab this team by the scruff of its neck and whip it into shape.
It’s easy, always so easy, to hope the coach is the big problem. Would that this were the case. Switching out one guy whose salary isn’t even controlled by the salary cap is a neat, almost surgical solution. It’s natural, even comforting, for fans to gravitate towards the coach as the main problem.
But even if the coaching isn’t ideal—and I would agree that it is far from being so—the players really haven’t acquitted themselves well. Yes, we know this team struggles when John Klingberg is having an off night, and he was entirely absent from game two, so that’s gonna have a negative effect, no matter what you haters are gonna say.
But replacing an ailing Klingberg with Thomas Harley, only to treat him like a spare part, thereby overburdening players like Lindell and Sekera against an Avs team far too fast for them? Well, that’s just asinine.
If Taylor Fedun truly was unfit to play because of an injury last night, then you can sort of squint and see how Harley makes sense to try. But clearly the coaches were looking for a reason to bail, and Harley provided them plenty of such moments, even in the five shifts he got in the first period. He looked like an OHL player being thrust into the Stars’ toughest game since February. This was a playoff game (sort of) against the fastest team in the league, fully healthy, and the coaches got scared to keep exposing Harley. It wasn’t hard to see that outcome coming down the tracks.
Much like the odd promotions of Reilly Smith and Jamie Oleksiak at the start of the decade, the Stars got caught hoping their top prospect would help their team to be better than it was. And as we’ve seen with both Smith (hey, how about him!) and Oleksiak (who Matt DeFranks said last night has been Dallas’s best defenseman since the restart), that doesn’t mean the players are bad if their debuts don’t immediately change the team’s fortunes. It might just mean that the prospect can only do so much. We all have so much to learn, and challenges don’t always make that happen in the ways we would want.
As Sean Shapiro said in his 20/20, it’s mind-boggling that you’d start Harley in Klingberg’s absence only to keep him off the power play, then switching his defense partner halfway through the first period. It shows an organization that is constantly second-guessing its bold decisions, always reverting to what seems safest. Sure, it may not result in any actual goals, but it could have been worse, we suppose.
What really got me boiling though was in the third period, when Harley still had gotten only two shifts over halfway through a 3-0 contest well on its way to 4-0. The Stars were in denial that they were in garbage time, finally giving Harley a few more shifts in the final six minutes, for all the good it did. At that point in the game, you have to be treating the whole thing as a learning experience. The Stars were already locked into at least third place by that point, so why not roll your lines and let the chips fall where they may?
I think the answer is that the team was scared of further embarrassment.
That shamefaced response is what led to Martin Hanzal and Ken Hitchcock after 2017. It’s what led to the Blake Comeau and Andrew Cogliano three-year tenures. It’s what led to Dylan Heatherington starting a playoff game in the second round last year when the Stars clearly needed to scrape up some offense more than anything else.
The team wants to make bold decisions and to be the next St. Louis Blues, but they don’t have enough organizational cohesion and confidence to implement a vision that can get them even close to that goal. Much like their offensive approach in hockey games.
Sports are about love and heartbreak for arbitrary reasons. And, like love, most teams are never going to solve their problems by second-guessing themselves every time something goes wrong. Did you get shut down by that person you asked out? You can either assume you were the problem and try to find a way to minimize your own heartbreak in the future, or else you can surround yourself with courageous people who will push you to be better, and to have enough confidence to take the risks that will get you where you want to be. Basically, the Stars last few seasons have been the first two acts of most romantic comedies. And they haven’t hired a capable screenwriter to finish the plot in far too long.
The cautious approach to sports can sometimes win you things. The Detroit Pistons won a trophy through boring, smothering defense, and the New Jersey Devils did the same. Heck, the only Cup in Stars’ history came by letting the offense come and go as it pleased, instead of forcing the issue. The Stars, as an organization, have become the tennis master simply waiting for the other side to make unforced errors.
And that’s all well and good when your opponent can’t make you get out of your comfort zone. But as we’ve seen in two straight games now, the Stars simply aren’t good enough, prepared enough, or built well enough to handle the best of the West. And that’s an indictment of the players, the coaches, and everyone else.
Maybe they’ll show the strengths of their system after a couple days to regather themselves. Maybe they’ll remind us that hey, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn can get hot. The Stars effectively only allowed one 5v5 goal to Colorado, after all, despite getting skated out of the rink all night long. That Colorado had to do most of their damage on the power play is a consequence of both the fact that Colorado was constantly doing the things to get on the power play, yes—but also a consequence of the fact that the Stars’ approach, with excellent goaltending, can keep them hanging around games they have no right to be in. Heck, if Comeau and Oleksiak hadn’t both gotten sucked out of the slot to open up a highway for Cale Makar, maybe the Avs don’t score the first goal of the game to begin with. These are things the Stars probably have to tell themselves right now in order to get up in the morning.
At some point, every fan hopes their team can defy the odds in order to win a glorious victory. But it would be nice if the Stars didn’t tilt the odds so drastically against themselves, for a change.