Dallas Stars Show Progress, Yet Struggles Still Remain As Winless Streak Continues
There's really not much more to say. It's all been talked about, written about, discussed, debated, argued and beaten into the ground. The Dallas Stars have acknowledged the issues. Lindy Ruff has openly stated what's been going wrong, so it's not as if the team is living with their heads buried in the sand pretending everything will be okay.
Far from it, actually.
It was a quiet locker room on Thursday night after the loss to the Nashville Predators; this is usually the case after a loss -- there's never much whooping and hollering after a defeat -- but last night felt just a bit different. The look on the players' faces, the tone in the voices of Jamie Benn and Trevor Daley and then Ruff when they spoke to the media.
They know this is a dangerous skid, they know they need to figure this out in a hurry because while it's still early in the season the Stars now find themselves dead last in the Central and quickly losing ground on what will be a very tight playoff race.
"I think the start of the game, we played well," said captain Jamie Benn. "The second half of the second we played well, and then the last half of the third we were playing well. We've got to find a way to get a full 60 minute effort and play the right way, and play the same way, for a whole game."
What was beyond exasperating is that aside from some tough penalty kill issues in the second period, the Stars played perhaps their best game in two weeks. It started slow, the first period was a slog, but the team really started to find their top gear in the second period and the pressure started to come -- not just off the rush, but through sustained offensive zone pressure and cycling.
The Stars were down 2-0 in the second period in their own building in the middle of a demoralizing losing streak, yet fought back and tied the game in the third period and seemed to have grabbed momentum.
Yet the Stars couldn't cash in on their chances, especially in the third period, and the Predators were able to get a squeaky goal through traffic with a little over six minutes remaining and there you have it -- a game the Stars were the better team and should have won, but still walked away without a point.
Trevor Daley, when asked if the game was a step in the right direction, was fairly blunt about the situation.
"It's tough but we still lost the game," said Daley. "We have won one game at home and it's frustrating right now. You try to take something out of it, we were the better team and we didn't get the job done, what do you take out of that? The way we have been going, it's tough so we just have go to stick with it tomorrow in practice. We have to get back to getting things right, doing things hard and playing like we're a winning hockey team. It's frustrating in here so we have to find ways to get that out of here."
The Stars attempted a new strategy on their breakouts and transitions from their own zone and for the most part it worked, especially after giving up the second goal to the Predators. The pressure was rolling from three or four lines at a time and there was speed moving up the ice once more, yet the Stars couldn't overcome some spectacular goaltending by Pekka Rinne and the struggles of some players in their own end.
"When you garner the chances in play it's a step in the right direction," said Lindy Ruff. "There were better things there. There are a couple of our defensemen who are struggling and it's hurt our puck movement coming up ice. I thought our top-two guys [Alex Goligoski] and [Trevor Daley] gave us a heck of a game. After that, it was a little bit of a struggle. We need improvement there. We need to create a little bit more speed and a little bit more opportunity in our game."
The exasperation and the frustration and the struggle to figure out why the team can't turn this around is growing, and after last night's game there more than a few fans that expressed their feeling this streak may reach ten before it ends. It's tough to fault that line of thinking because when a team goes into a slump like this that then becomes sustained -- it seems as if there's never going to be a way to crawl out of it.
Especially after Thursday's game, when the Stars ultimately made progress and looked so much better overall. Yet they didn't get the calls they needed and gave up some tough goals through traffic while seemingly being incapable of getting a clean shot past Rinne. It's a feeling of "it's good, but still not nearly good enough and now it may never end."
The troubling aspect of having that feeling as fan is that it's a mentality that creeps into the locker room as well. You don't get the calls you think you deserve, you miss on some wide open chances early when the game is on the line and you once again give up a late goal in a loss.
It's a line of thinking that requires any modicum of success to break out of, as the struggles build on themselves and it becomes harder and harder to get away from those failures -- but the Stars made a step in the right direction and just have to find a way to progress on what worked on Thursday and move forward.
"I think when you're going like this, you have a feeling that something bad is going to happen," said Ruff. "I was stressing to stay on it and keep the pedal to the metal. I thought we did that. I didn't think we had many bad shifts. Maybe a couple where the bottom couple of defensemen struggled in our own end, but I think when you've got it going like this, and a couple of your top guys are struggling to put the puck in the back of the net, I think sometimes you can go too safe.
"I don't want us going too safe," said Ruff. "That was the point I tried to make by shortening the bench and giving them more ice. For the most part I think they responded as the energy was good, the scoring chances were there and we were diligent with our back-check pressure. We didn't win and no one's happy with what's been going on, but I guarantee you if you keep progressing along those lines, you'll win."