It’s been an unexpected and uncharacteristic first 12 days of the 2019-20 regular season for the Dallas Stars. Nothing seems to be going right, and the team is falling well short of expectations as a result. But in this early skid, the team has to learn how to properly adjust their mindset and get back in the win column.
This isn’t what the Dallas Stars wanted, needed, or expected to start their 2019-20 season. But it’s what they’ve got, and now it’s up to them to respond.
Saturday evening seemed to offer the Stars a golden opportunity against the Washington Capitals. They were on home ice for one more game before kicking off a four-game road trip, had a 13-0-4 home point streak rolling against Washington, and had a two-game point streak after starting the season 0-3-0. To top things off, they beat the Capitals in D.C. five days prior in a 4-3 overtime win.
The Stars were set up nicely to finish their short homestand on a high note and hit an Eastern Conference swing with momentum.
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But by the end of the second period, there was a mixture of boos and ‘Let’s go Caps’ chants arising from the stands. By the time the final horn sounded, the Stars found themselves on the wrong side of a 4-1 decision in what was their most lopsided and lacking performance of the early season.
“It all starts with the compete,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said following the loss. “We just didn’t compete hard enough on the power play or five-on-five.”
When a team suffers a loss, the first thing that fans, media, and coaches attempt to do is dissect the game and figure out why their team fell short. The reasons tend to vary between the different groups, though there are some similarities.
On Saturday, a lot went wrong for Dallas.
Joel Hanley committed an early hi-sticking penalty that turned into a double-minor 52 seconds into the first period. That penalty eventually turned into a Tom Wilson power play goal. The Stars challenged the goal for a hand pass, but the call on the ice was confirmed and Dallas was issued a delay-of-game penalty as a result of the NHL’s new challenge rule. It was another slow and unenthusiastic start for the Stars through the first 20 minutes.
“I see the other team starting off better than we do,” Montgomery said about the bad starts.
Then came the power play woes. Dallas entered Saturday’s game with a 1-for-14 (7.14 percent) mark on the man advantage and had struggled to find consistent traction. That struggle took on an entirely new level against the Capitals as the Stars put together an 0-for-6 showing.
“I think there were times where we did good things and there were times where the puck wasn’t moving quick enough,” said Tyler Seguin. “We flipped sides there at the end and had a couple of good looks. But if we get that many penalties, I think we’re 1-for-20 so far this year, that has to change. The amount of power plays we usually get, you have to bury at least one a game.”
“It felt better, but I’d be kidding myself if I said it was good enough,” added Joe Pavelski. “We’ve got to stay with it. If we can stay on net, keep tipping pucks, we’re going to get a few bounces and a few of those are going to start going in. But it’s time for production. If we could’ve gotten one there a little bit earlier, it’s a completely different night.”
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As the boos began to grow more fervent and the Stars sank further away from chemistry and confidence, the Capitals continued pouring it on and took a 3-0 lead early in the third period. And had it not been for a Radek Faksa wraparound goal, Dallas would have been shut out by Ilya Samsonov, who was making his second career NHL start.
In the postgame media scrums, there was an odd and all-too-familiar sense of silence and uncertainty as the reality of a 1-4-1 start to the season settled in.
“It’s definitely turning our awareness and raising it a little bit, but that’s not a bad thing,” Pavelski said. “We should be there already and our urgency has to go up. We can’t continue this. We’ve been in position to win enough games and have a better record, but we haven’t gotten done. It hasn’t been good enough.”
That’s a pretty good summation of the first 12 days of the 2019-20 season for the Dallas Stars. They simply haven’t been good enough.
But not being good enough is not an option for this team. They’re too talented and the bar is much too high for this team to find a way to stumble. Another season with no playoffs would likely mean a serious shakeup in the front office and another new direction for this club.
But wait… it’s only six games into the regular season. There’s still plenty of time to bounce back, so there’s no reason to panic just yet, right?
Well, sort of. The fact that the Stars have only picked up 3 of a possible 12 points is magnified by it happening at the start of the year. If the Stars picked up 3 of 12 points between games 33-38 after a solid start to the season, the panic wouldn’t be as severe.
But it’s not happening midway through the year, and the Dallas Stars have to accept that. It’s put a dark cloud over the beginning of a season that held so much promise just a little more than one week ago.
On the one hand, their big players aren’t stepping up. 22-year-old forward Roope Hintz leads the offense with four goals. And while his early breakout is an encouraging sign of what could be coming for the young Finn, the larger focus has to rest on players like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Joe Pavelski. This group of superstars has combined for just four goals and eight points through six games. That cannot happen.
By another token, their defensive efforts and goaltending aren’t as dominant as they were throughout the 2018-19 season. The Stars are being caught out of position more often than usual and are committing mistakes as a result.
That was never more apparent than on Saturday night. The Capitals were the better team in every important area of the game, controlled the pace and left the Stars scrambling for answers as Washington picked them apart piece-by-piece with speed, quick transitions, and strong efforts by their special teams units.
And now, the Dallas Stars enter a four-game road trip to the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. Their opponents (Buffalo, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia) own a combined record of 12-5-2, with the Sabres leading the charge at 4-0-1.
This is an important road trip for the Stars. While that may sound like a cliché and every road trip is “important” in its own regard, this one means a lot for Dallas. If they continue to struggle and drop two or three losses on the trip, they might return home in an even bigger hole. But if they can win three games, things look a lot different as they come back to Dallas for a four-game homestand.
The overarching message in the locker room on Saturday was that the team needs to have a “playoff mindset” going into the trip.
“This is a big road trip for us,” Seguin said. “You don’t want to say it’s a playoff game, but everyone in here, including myself, needs to have a playoff mentality going on this road trip.”
In addition, Seguin also pointed out that the feat accomplished by the Blues (going from worst-to-first) in 2018-19 is rare and almost never happens.
“It’s hard, but I think it can help our team,” Faksa said about being in playoff mode in the second week of the season. “I think we played really good hockey, we’re just making stupid mistakes in the game and we don’t manage the games properly. That’s what is deciding the games.”
The Dallas Stars are in a tight spot right now. Their 2019-20 schedule provided them a tough challenge out of the gate being road-heavy and involving some of the top teams in the NHL, but they have yet to answer the bell.
"“There’s no question that there’s concern, but we can’t worry about what’s happened; we have to worry about what’s ahead and rally around each other. The expectation is that everyone has to look in the mirror and everyone has to be better. Everyone has to take ownership of the ice time they’re getting, the lack of production that they’re maybe giving, and the lack of energy and emotion that they’re giving to the team. As a coaching staff, we have to look in the mirror and ask what we’re doing wrong and why we don’t get off to better starts. We’ve been trying to look at it and it’s just too reminiscent of last year.” –Jim Montgomery on the upcoming road trip"
As a result, they are 1-4-1 and have yet to find a consistent identity. That cannot happen for a team stocked with talent and promise. And that’s why the upcoming road trip is so important. It’s a chance to continue searching for that identity and rack up some wins to be in a better light by the time they return to Dallas.
That all begins on Monday at 2 p.m. in Buffalo against a good Sabres team.
It’s time for the Dallas Stars to look in the mirror and begin sorting things out. This requirement of resilience usually doesn’t show up until midway through a regular season for most teams, but the Stars have to deal with it head-on just 12 days into the year.
That can be a good thing, though. It’s a chance to see how resilient and determined this team can be with its back against the wall. It’s an opportunity to see how they stand up to and overcome challenges that will certainly arise throughout the season.
But the road back begins with a single step, and that first step is waiting at KeyBank Center on this Monday afternoon. Let’s see how the Stars take it.