Dallas Stars Dominate Four Periods, Panic In Two, Only Take Two of Four Points

What did we sit through?

Every English teacher you've ever had has discouraged you from quoting the dictionary and, at least when I was in school, strongly discouraged the use of Wikipedia. Let's make some history tonight and do something mildly hack-ish. How does Wikipedia define a rout?

A rout is a chaotic and disorderly retreat or withdrawal of troops from a battlefield, resulting in the victory of the opposing party, or following defeat, a collapse of discipline, or poor morale.

A routed army often disintegrates into... "every man for himself" ...as the survivors flee for safety. A rout often results in much higher casualties for the retreating force than an orderly withdrawal. On many occasions, more soldiers are killed in the rout than in the actual battle. Normally, though not always, routs either end a battle or provide the moment the winner needs to win decisively a battle.

Some famous routs in history: Verdun, The Somme, Stalingrad, Inchon, Bay of Pigs, The Tet Offensive, and the last two periods of the Dallas Stars loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

Maybe that's a bit hyperbolic.

Yeah, probably it is, but we're going to go with it. Sports all too often get implicitly compared with war, but there is a good reason for that. Sports are mini war games and do share many characteristics with war - just not characteristics which make war an abhorrent institution. Historian Tim Cornell goes into some detail on the subject in an interesting essay you can read here. The pertinent excerpt for us is below:

Both (war and sport) entail contests of physical strength and skill. Both tend to reinforce group solidarity and identity ("us" against "them"). Both arouse strong emotions among participants and interested non-participants (spectators or fans in a sporting context, non-combatant civilians on the "home front" in war). The qualities that are admired in both are similar (e.g. courage, loyalty, stamina, and discipline), and both confer honour and prestige on their heroes

The concept of a rout fits within this framework nicely. Disorganization, the breakdown of teamwork, general chaos and many other unsavory similarities were easy to identify in this game. Your Dallas Stars, the team that held Sidney Crosby shotless for the second time in his career, the team that shut out the Pittsburgh Penguins on opening night, the team that had a 3-1 lead after one period Saturday night, got routed out of Denver over the last two periods by a club with about 10 or 11 players who could legitimately make the Stars roster.

(As ridiculous as that sounds, go look for yourself. I'll grant you six forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. You might be able to argue me up to seven forwards.)

You're going to need to go elsewhere for narrative building. This isn't going to devolve into Hockey Story Time With Joshâ„¢. All I know is what I saw, and what I saw was alarming. Antti Niemi took a penalty for dumping the puck into the crowd from his own end. John Klingberg took a penalty for the exact same thing. The Stars got a bench minor for too many man on the ice. This goal happened:


John Mitchell scored on a pass from Jack Skille who took the puck from Cody McLeod with Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, John Klingberg, Alex Goligoski, and Patrick Eaves on the ice. That is an actual sentence that describes an event in the hockey game. How does this even happen? Lindy Ruff put it well:

"We lost too many battles. We didn't deserve to win. Our battle was just crap," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's embarrassing. It's worse than disappointing. Our best players have to be our best players. Can't play like that. Won't win."

He's 100% right, and as a fanbase we're well within our rights to be skeptical of Thursday night's opener against Pittsburgh. What we saw for the final two periods against the Avalanche could have been from the 2015 season easily. The game got moving too fast for the Stars. All of their structure broke down. The goaltending wasn't of a very high caliber. It was a giant mess.

And that is a shame. In the previous four period watching Stars hockey was wonderful. They performed crisp zone exits and entries. Forwards were supporting the defensive game and transitioning very well. Everything was clicking and the Stars looked like a threat to do some damage this season. All of that goodwill was thrown away in two periods in Colorado. The season isn't a week old and we're already at a turning point.

The Dallas Stars had a big lead early and they panicked. Now, how do they respond? Bad things happen in life, but the response to those bad things is more important than the bad thing itself. I can't confidently say how I think they will respond, but I do know how they need to respond.

When they were at their best in the first four periods of the season they were calm and working together as five man units. At their worst they can't get the puck out of their own end without dumping it out and they scramble around hoping they can make a play defensively.

There are few teams in this league more talented than the Stars, but there are 29 teams who can beat them on any given night if they run around their own end without poise. It all comes back to confidence and we've seen that this is a fragile group. They have to consistently have that swagger or the peons of this league will keep dropping half a dozen goals on them.

When the Stars are able to combine that winning swagger with the structured game they've played for 80 minutes so far this season they're going to be dominant. If they can't they might make the playoffs on talent alone, but they won't do anything. It's time for someone to step forward and show the group as a whole how to deal with adversity.

The best armies in the world lose battles every now and then, but they know how to regroup and rally. The Stars missed their opportunity to regroup after the Avalanche scored a couple goals. Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers the Stars have another chance to handle a mediocre team the way a good team should. If they aren't prepared they're going to get routed once again.