Fixing The Dallas Stars: Back To Basics & Just Have Some Fun Again
Is there an easy fix? Probably not. But this might help.
Let's just say I were an NHL head coach. It's not going to happen anytime in the near future, but we all like to pretend what we would do with that position from time to time and think we might be able to do a better job than the guy with years and years of experience that stands behind the bench. It's just the nature of being a fan.
But if I were a coach, and I had seen my team perform like the Stars have over the past few weeks, I think this is what I would have them do:
Gordon Bombay is filled with all sorts of wisdom. While the Mighty Ducks movies were 90's cheesetastic, there were some actual good hockey lessons to be found in those movies...
...clean up the trash around the net.
...lassoing players during the game is an effective means of serious messing up the opponent's mojo.
...the guy from Good Burger is a hidden weapon all teams must utilize
...more importantly, hockey is a team sport. It needs all five players -- plus the goalie -- working in tandem and as one full unit to really have success.
There's been all sorts of talk about how to "fix" the team after a 4-4-4 start to the season, a 1-1-4 start at home and just general malaise and frustration instead of what many had hoped would be a good, fast start for a team filled with all sorts of potential and promises.
The frustration comes in part because the players and coaches have all been saying the right things after these losses -- and even the wins; there are no excuses being given, the players and coaches are taking responsibility for getting the corrections made, but then the team comes out and has a game like Tuesday night against a struggling Kings team and even more questions are created.
Is it the line combinations? Earlier this week we stated that getting Tyler Seguin back to center and getting Spezza and Hemsky back together should be the first step -- the first game the Stars went back to this configuration, the top two lines were barely effective and the team lost another game thanks to a poor third-period performance at home.
That last part is where the biggest concern lies and points to where the exact troubles may be on this team right now. The Stars have been outscored 13-3 in the third period on home ice this season and have seen leads erased in every single loss they've suffered on home ice. This is a team that has suddenly become troublesome when they have the lead, and it could speak to the mentality of the team carrying over from last year and the exact hurdles they now face.
The Stars are a team fueled by players that last year were boosted by the 'underdog' mentality. Jamie Benn wasn't good enough to be a captain, or to be on Team Canada. Tyler Seguin was castoff from the Bruins and it was questioned whether he could be a top center in the NHL. Lindy Ruff was coming off a wholly disappointing end to his career in Buffalo. Jim Nill was in his first season as GM.
The Stars thrived in that underdog role and caught teams by surprise throughout the season. They were fast and they were frenetic, physical along the boards when needed and incredibly aggressive up the ice while also finding the right balance defensively. But it took some time, and there were some massive struggles last season that the run to the playoffs seems to have erased from our memory a bit -- it's funny how a successful season will do that to a memory.
Imagine if this five-game winless streak had occurred in the middle of the season, such as in December or January, after a somewhat decent start on the year. Even a ten-game slump of sorts will happen and a 4-4-4 stretch in a season isn't unheard of even for the best teams in the NHL. The narrative would be much, much different because the Stars had forged their own collateral for success to fall back on, and the panic and frustration would be much less than it is now.
Yet the Stars have yet to really get going this season and aside from perhaps the first 40 minutes of the game against Chicago and then the third period in Columbus, Dallas has not even come close to the potential that we feel the team should be capable of.
It's a matter of talent, and experience and it's a matter of systems and coaching and the right breakout strategy and overcoming the lack of a right-handed defenseman and the absence of proven backup goaltending.
It's also a matter of just...having fun again.
The Stars have talked about it this week, the need to get back to basics and get away from the "pond hockey" shenanigans that have slowed this offense to a crawl the past three games. Crashing the net, getting interior pressure, winning the pucks along the boards and funneling the puck to the net as much as possible is certainly a good start and what the coaches have been pushing on their team the past few days.
Getting back to basics is just another way of saying the team needs to "simplify" the game; there's too much thinking happening, too much reacting and not enough anticipation. If you simplify and just focus on doing the little things right -- which the Stars have increasingly struggled with as the frustration has mounted -- then the rest will fall into place.
Most importantly, simplifying the game will hopefully loosen the players up and get that pressure off their shoulders and they can just go out and play a fun and entertaining game once more.
Last season, the Stars were a blast to watch -- even in losses. Mostly. This season, that hasn't really happened yet and you can see the pressure on the team's faces as they try to give the rowdy and full home crowds what they want. Instead of feeding off that energy they seem to be hampered by it, and the Dallas crowd is very close to overboiling frustration of their own.
Saying the Stars "just need to have fun again" is a very tough proposition, as winning is what will ultimately cure those issues. Winning is fun. Losing is definitely not fun.
But hockey is a game played best when the team is loose, when they are anticipating one another and playing free and "fun" on the ice. Hit someone. Show some emotion other than two-fisted swings of frustration. Show some life -- and feed on the energy the crowd is trying to provide.
Thursday's game against the Predators presents a very tough matchup for the Stars, facing a team that is rolling along strong to start the season. The Kings were a tough test and the Stars came up short -- now it's time to see if these closed-door meetings and emphasis on simplifying the game will finally have an effect.