Through the first 10 games of the 2018-19 season, the Dallas Stars are playing on a painfully average note. The only consistent thing about their play is the inconsistency that comes with it. As a result, the question must be asked: what is wrong with this team and will they ever fix it?
The Stars had just granted a lead to the only one-win team in the NHL. That lead would eventually be built upon as the Wings would coast to a 4-2 win over Dallas to pick up just their second win of the season (2-7-2).
It marked the third straight road loss for the Dallas Stars this season, giving them an 0-3-0 mark away from home. They lost to the worst team in the NHL, and they did so simply by making some small mistakes and suffering from some unlucky bounces. Bishop was out of position on the first two goals, the defense began slouching back in the third period, and the offense was entirely nonexistent following a Gemel Smith goal in the first period.
But missing out on two points in a game that should have been a win isn’t even the most painful part of the loss. Instead, it was simply that eerily familiar feeling of disappointment that stung to the core.
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As the Stars watched their 1-0 lead transform into a 1-1 tie and eventually mold into a 3-1 deficit, it was almost as if they were replaying a bad movie from the past. And as much as they didn’t want to rewatch it, they let it roll.
This Dallas Stars flick typically involves three scenes: Stars jump out to early, small lead, Stars shift into neutral mode, opposition takes advantage and defeats Stars.
That’s exactly what happened. But in this case, Dallas had to deal with all sorts of other painful questions. Why didn’t any of their superstar forwards like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, or Alexander Radulov (though he’s been injured) score for a sixth straight game? How come the Stars couldn’t respond after a bad bounce goal against? Where did their offensive firepower go? Why could they not beat the worst team in the NHL? And why did it all have to happen on the road?
The loss to Detroit is, without a doubt, the most humbling loss of the season for the Dallas Stars. They couldn’t cash in on a terrible team, willed the game away with their lack of emotion and intensity, and further built on already existing problems.
And here they are with a record of 5-5-0 through the first ten games of their 2018-19 campaign. They own the 17th highest goals for average and 16th highest goals against average. They sit in sixth place in the Central division, 12th in the Western Conference, and 23rd in the NHL standings.
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In other words, they are riding the line of mediocrity at the moment.
Now, maybe you expected this sort of start. After all, it takes time to establish a new coach and new system within a franchise. With Jim Montgomery kicking off his first year behind an NHL bench, it was bound to take some time to get the team on the right page before they pushed forward. But that happens with every coach.
Lindy Ruff posted a 4-6-0 record through the first ten games in his first season with the Stars. Ken Hitchcock, like Montgomery, also had the Stars at a 5-5-0 mark through the first ten games last season. Now, these average starts have led to both a wild card spot and missing the playoffs outright, but that’s neither here nor there. Each year is different and each team is different.
But some of you may be baffled by this start. After all, this Dallas Stars team looked to be on the brink of greatness. They hired a coaching staff that seemed to perfectly complement their lineup, have an all-star cast on offense and defense, and seemed to have the motivation and fire burning inside that is necessary when trying to take the next step.
"“We have a big fire in our bellies right now and I think we’re all really excited to get back in camp and get back together.” – Stephen Johns at the 2018 NHL Draft"
And yet, here they are at .500. They have been impressive in their wins and on the brink of embarrassment in their losses. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground with this team through ten games. They either play decisively well or overwhelmingly poor.
So, what is it that’s wrong with this team? Why are they still stuck in square one? What is holding them back from taking that next step?
Recurring problems play a big part in it. As mentioned above, the Dallas Stars are struggling in a few areas. Winning a road game seems to have become the equivalent of stealing the Declaration of Independence for the Stars. They also struggle with building on (or, at the very least, protecting) leads in games. Their special teams units aren’t playing good enough when they need them to be, their goaltending is faltering on some unlucky plays, and they cannot seem to have the entire team up and running in each game.
All of these problems can be traced back to last season as well. When the Stars began slipping in the month of March, these issues were prevalent in almost every game. Some games, the offense carried the load while the defense and goaltending dipped. But in other games, the defense and goaltending would do their best to hold the line while the offense contributed very little.
It’s a full-team push that the Dallas Stars are lacking in this average start to the season. But they are also missing what I like to call the “three e’s”: energy, emotion, and effort.
If you watched Sunday’s game against the Red Wings, the Stars failed to bring any of these qualities to the ice following Smith’s goal. They lacked energy, had no emotion in their play, and put up little to no effort for the rest of the game. The only time effort made an appearance was in the final minute of the game when Dallas realized that they were in a two-goal hole.
These qualities have been severely lacking in the Stars’ play this season, and that’s contributed heavily to their early demise. As a result, Dallas is already in an early-season hole. Can they get out of it? That depends on how willing they are to fix their errors and do it in a timely manner. After all, they might not have as much time as they think.
There are still 72 games remaining in the season. But ten games are done. To add on to that, the Stars are in a tightly-contested and deep Central division race. Want to know how deep? A 5-5-0 record has them at second-to-last in the division and fourth-to-last in the conference. There’s not much room for error.
Right now, all of the Stars’ errors seem to be self-inflicted. They aren’t playing the relentless and aggressive style that Montgomery preaches and promised. As a result, they are losing games because the other team is simply giving more. That’s not a good reason to lose games.
The Dallas Stars are 5-5-0 to kick off this new era. That’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not good. This team has the talent to be a playoff contender. They know it and they have shown it on different occasions. The trick now is showing it on a nightly basis from the top of the lineup to the bottom.
The Stars cannot seem to outrun some of their old, lingering problems. They continue being chased down and beaten by those issues, and it’s causing a certain disconnect in energy, emotion, effort, and team composure.
Dallas has five more games remaining on this season-long road trip. Losing those five games could very well put a decisive nail in the Stars’ coffin considering how their competition is currently doing. In 2014-15, the Stars suffered through an early season losing skid and ultimately missed the playoffs by a handful of points. Bottom line: every game matters in this league, regardless of when or where it is played.
It’s time for a reality check for the Dallas Stars. Can they truly be the team that they talked about being throughout the long summer? Or are they stuck in another cycle of mediocrity that has an early offseason waiting at the end of it?
If the Stars can fix these early season issues, get their minds right, and start playing as a complete team on a regular basis, there’s no doubt that they can turn things around. But if they don’t, it could make for a long 72-game stretch over the next few months.
But, like all things, it’s really up to them. We’ll see which Stars show up against Montreal on Tuesday night.