The Dallas Stars are seven games deep into their 2019-20 season and have yet to show any consistent signs of promise or potential. And after another lackluster performance on Monday in Buffalo, things are beginning to shift from uncertainty to panic.
I graduated college a little over five months ago and that’s still a weird thought to me.
Sure, I’m already neck-deep in the working world, have my own apartment, and am paying bills now (which is no fun, as my parents and graduated friends used to tell me), but it’s still odd. There are still mornings when I wake up and wonder what papers I need to work on or if there is an upcoming home football broadcast that I need to prepare for.
And while there is plenty that I miss about college, there’s one thing that I am much happier and better off without: exams.
Some of the most conflicting and confusing parts of college involved taking tests. And while there are many parts of a typical college exam that bring about frustration, the multiple choice questions that involve “D. All of the above” as a possible answer might be the most frustrating.
Are A-C all valid answers to the question? Or is it just A? But couldn’t B also be a valid response? Where’s the answer choice that only involves A and B? But if A and B are logical, does that mean C has to be included as well?
Why does that “D. All of the above” choice have to be included? More often than not, it causes the test-taker to second guess themself and read deeper into the question than what was originally intended.
But when trying to decipher what is wrong with the Dallas Stars through the first seven games of the 2019-20 regular season, that’s the only answer choice that seems correct: “D. All of the above.”
It once again became the answer on Monday afternoon as the Stars dropped a matinee matchup to the Buffalo Sabres in New York. Dallas was outmatched and outplayed in a game they didn’t deserve to win and fell 4-0 at the hands of a young, but explosive Sabres team.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The loss shifted the Stars to 1-5-1 in the early part of their 2019-20 regular season. It’s their worst start to a season since 1990-91 when they were still the Minnesota North Stars and has Dallas sitting at the bottom of the NHL standings nearly two weeks into the campaign.
And through these first seven games, just about everything has gone wrong for them.
Less than two weeks ago, the Dallas Stars were labeled as a favorite to contend for the Stanley Cup. After advancing to double overtime in Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs last season and spending the summer adding talented veteran names like Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, and Andrej Sekera to shore up the team’s weak spots, those expectations seemed entirely justified.
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But through a handful of disappointing losses to start the season, those expectations now seem considerably far-fetched.
Now, the Stars going into the year that the first portion of their schedule presented a challenge. 7 of their first 10 games are on the road, and teams like Boston, St. Louis, Washington, and Pittsburgh helped compose the majority of their opening month opponents.
The hope and expectation, however, was that this revamped Dallas Stars team would be able to not only hang, but also outdo most of their challengers in the opening month. So far, that hasn’t happened.
Perhaps the most unexpected part of their early season skid is that it has somehow gotten worse before getting better. It would be one thing for the Stars to lose their first three games but follow it up with a handful of wins and stronger efforts; instead, Dallas has arguably put forth its two weakest performances in the past two games.
It started on Saturday at American Airlines Center with a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals that halted a 17-game home point streak against the Caps. The Stars went 0-for-6 on the power play and could not get anything going in the offensive zone. Their passes were sloppy and off-target, Washington dominated the transition game, and had it not been for a wraparound goal on the rush by Radek Faksa in the middle of the third period, the Stars would have been shut out.
Two days later, they weren’t so lucky when it came to finding the scoreboard as the Stars dropped a 4-0 decision to the Sabres. Once again, Dallas looked unenthused on the ice, had no offensive motivation, and let a 0-0 opportunity after first intermission turn into a blowout thanks to a handful of badly-timed penalties.
So, what can be said about the Dallas Stars through the first seven games of their 2019-20 season? They continue to struggle with sustaining offensive drives and finding ways to score the puck. When they enter the offensive zone, connecting on more than two passes in a row seems impossible before they lose possession entirely. As a result, attacking on the rush has become their only hope of putting the puck in the net.
Their defense and goaltending hasn’t found the same level of success as it did in 2018-19. Roope Hintz and Miro Heiskanen have been consistent bright spots, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the team. They have yet to win a game on home ice or even win a game in regulation, for that matter.
“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.” –Jim Montgomery after loss to Capitals
Simply put, they haven’t met the high bar that was set for them in the preseason. They haven’t even come close, in fact.
And while a 1-5-1 stretch is more magnified when it happens at the beginning of a season instead of being buried in the middle of the year, it doesn’t negate the fact that this Dallas Stars team has a lot of problems that need immediate fixing. The problem? There don’t seem to be any answers right now.
On Saturday, the team talked about bringing a playoff mentality and shifting into playoff mode for the four-game road trip in the week ahead. But on Monday, they looked as though they were still in preseason mode while the Sabres outperformed them at every turn. There seemed to be little to no emotion or energy on the ice (which could be due in part to the 2 p.m. start), and that eventually opened the door for Buffalo to take control.
“I thought we skated and competed, but we just didn’t generate enough offense,” Montgomery said on Monday. “When plays are there to be made, we aren’t clicking tape-to-tape right now. It’s off a heel or in a skate. If we keep skating and competing like that, things will turn. That’s a much better team performance, even though no one likes the result and everyone is unhappy with where we’re at right now. Things will turn.”
So yes, it seems as though a little bit of everything is wrong with this team right now. The big-name players aren’t stepping up and taking control, the offense has no chemistry, the power play is in a rut, and they simply cannot find a spark.
But every journey back to level ground begins with a single step, and that’s what the Dallas Stars need.
“You just dig in as a group,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said after the loss in Buffalo. “A little adversity never hurt. Seems like it’s magnified because it’s the start of the year here. You can kind of get away with stretches like this in the middle of the season, but to have a tough start like this, it sucks. But we’ve got to keep digging in here.”
“We’re in this hole together and it’s hard, but no one said before the season that it’s going to be easy,” Alexander Radulov added. “We just gotta battle through it and find a way. It is what it is right now, and those games like today and the last three games, you kind of have to turn the page and just go from zero again. Just battle and win the little things.”
At this point, these things seem to be much easier said than done.
There’s no denying the talent that this Dallas Stars team possesses. It’s arguably their most talented roster of the past decade on offense, defense, and in net, and there’s no reason that they can’t rebound from this slow start and get to the level that is expected of them.
But that will require a full-team effort, something that the Stars seem incapable of providing through the first two weeks of the year. There’s a lack of energy, chemistry, and effort lingering in the locker room, and those need to be patched up before this team can take positive steps forward.
Dallas will not practice on Tuesday and will instead take the day off in Columbus. They will be back on the ice for morning skate on Wednesday before taking on the Blue Jackets in their second stop of this week-long road swing.
When asked about what is wrong with the Dallas Stars right now, “D. All of the above” seems like the most logical choice. They are unable to get the big plays at crucial moments and continue to fall just short in each passing game. The new challenge at hand is changing the answer to, “E. None of the above.”
And how will they do that? The only way a team can hope to: with some emotion, elbow grease, and a first step forward. 75 games still remain in the season and there are still over six months remaining in the 2019-20 campaign to fix things. But that fixing needs to happen sooner rather than later.
We’ll see what Stars team shows up on Wednesday night in Ohio.