Dallas Stars: Early Season Rollercoaster Stops At Critical Homestand

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 21: Jim Montgomery of the Dallas Stars gives instructions to his team during a time-out against the Chicago Blackhawks at the American Airlines Center on November 21, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 21: Jim Montgomery of the Dallas Stars gives instructions to his team during a time-out against the Chicago Blackhawks at the American Airlines Center on November 21, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images) /

With the month of December off and running, the Dallas Stars are in a painfully familiar spot to the beginning of the 2019-20 season. And with a four-game skid quickly attempting to negate a strong November surge, the Stars must find a way to right the ship during a tough upcoming homestand.

What can be said about the Dallas Stars through the first 29 games of their 2019-20 season? Let’s start from the beginning.

Rewind to around 9 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2019. The Stars are in a significant 3-0 hole against the Minnesota Wild at American Airlines Center and can’t seem to get anything going in their favor. They replaced Ben Bishop with Anton Khudobin at first intermission, couldn’t get their power play rolling, and had been victimized on the penalty kill by two Minnesota power-play goals.

And though things looked scary in that game, the big picture looked even more frightening. Dallas was 4-8-1 in the first month of their 2019-20 campaign and had fallen drastically short of the expectations that had been set for them in the preseason. Their talent wasn’t living up to its potential, there was no consistency or identity, and besides a three-game winning streak against average opponents, nothing was clicking.

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Things looked so frightening that the winds of change seemed to be speeding up as the game drew nearer to an end. Would members of the coaching staff of front office be fired? Would a noteworthy trade go down?

But all of those doubts were erased when Alexander Radulov led a furious comeback in the final 21 minutes of the game. Riding the energy from a Radulov hat trick, the Dallas Stars scored six unanswered goals and rallied for a big divisional win.

From there, the 2019-20 season seemed to take a complete 180°. From Oct. 29 to Nov. 25, the Stars rattled off a 12-game point streak (11-0-1), boosted their goals for average and cut their goals against average by more than one goal, and didn’t seem phased by any opponent or scheduling challenge. They turned their season around in a matter of weeks, went an entire calendar month without losing a game in regulation, and ascended the NHL standings.

But since Nov. 26, there has been a familiar feeling of “missing the mark.” Dallas is currently trudging through an 0-3-1 losing skid, and hasn’t won a game in nine days. After four weeks of surging, they are quickly slipping back down to earth.

So, there’s a lot that can be said about this Dallas Stars team. They seem to be on an intense rollercoaster filled with steady ups and downs, twists and turns, and plenty of unexpected moments.

And that’s the thing about hockey and every other professional sport: they are cyclical.

No team wins or loses 82 games in a row, but each one definitely goes through surges and skids. Now, those surges and skids are defined differently depending on the team. For instance, winning three in a row would be considered significant for the Detroit Red Wings (who sit at the bottom of the NHL), but is a natural occurrence for the Washington Capitals (who sit at the top of the League standings).

There are ebbs and flows with each passing season. And with those ebbs and flows come a wave of emotions. One week ago, the Stars looked like a top-tier team that was exceeding all of its preseason expectations. Now, they are two points away from being outside of the Western Conference playoff picture and are struggling to find the overwhelming consistency that carried them through November.

This current skid reached a new level of disappointment on Tuesday night when the Stars were outworked, outdone, and outperformed on every level by the Winnipeg Jets in a 5-1 shellacking. The Jets, a team that the Stars had dominated at the AAC just 12 days prior, took advantage of home ice and put Dallas through the ringer.

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After having a goal disallowed because of an offsides challenge just 13 seconds into the game, Winnipeg began pouring it on. Their offensive pressure was overwhelming, their defensive structure was sound, and they won every puck battle. Dallas failed to generate offensive zone time, looked disorganized in the defensive zone, and left Anton Khudobin out to dry in the crease.

Even when Miro Heiskanen provided a small spark of life with the Stars’ first goal midway through the second period, the Jets were quick to counter with a goal 90 seconds later. Having strong shifts immediately after a goal in a game is something that Stars captain Jamie Benn talked about after scoring the game-winning goal against the Jets 12 days ago. But on Tuesday night, the effort wasn’t there.

As a result, the Jets took advantage of an important divisional game that shifted the standings considerably. Meanwhile, the Stars looked like a shell of themselves and seemed to be stuck in the muck that was October hockey as they chased the Jets across Bell MTS Place.

After the game, there was no mincing of words in the Dallas dressing room.

“It was a tough game,” Heiskanen said. “They were better in everything tonight. Dobby was great today, but everyone else was bad, I think.”

“That was our worst game of the year and we never responded throughout the game,” Montgomery added. “I apologized to Dobby after the second for the effort in front of him.”

“Most of the game, we weren’t very physical and they skated right by us and played with the puck quite a bit in our zone,” Corey Perry said.

There was a lot of potential on the line in Tuesday’s game, and the Stars didn’t take advantage of it. And while an 0-3-1 skid isn’t as numbing and aggravating as a 1-7-1 slump, it’s still a critical juncture. Montgomery alluded to it two weeks ago as Dallas was soaring through a seven-game win streak.

“Wave after wave is the way we like to play and right now, we’re playing that way and we’ve just got to maintain this,” the Stars coach said. “We know the other side of it is not that much fun.  There are a lot of teams that started off great that are now in that mode that we were in previously.”

The Dallas Stars seem to be back in that mode. Nothing seems to be going right, they have lost the competitive edge that carried them through the previous month, and there’s a dire need for a spark before things get worse.

“We’ve got to find that even keel,” Tyler Seguin said. “We don’t want to get into the slump we had early on.”

And that’s where the upcoming homestand comes into play.

The Dallas Stars will play their next four games and five of the next six at American Airlines Center. On paper, that’s good news. Dallas is 9-4-1 on home ice this season and has rebounded sincerely after a disastrous start at the AAC.

"“We want to get back home. We’re only going to get out of this together, so we’re looking forward to doing that.” –Stars forward Tyler Seguin"

But with each opponent in the upcoming stand comes a new challenge. It all begins on Thursday when the Stars welcome the Jets to wrap up a home-and home. While it seems like a perfect opportunity to respond, it also presents a potential pitfall to sink into the same issues that plagued them on Tuesday.

“Those are the ones that you want to win,” Seguin said about divisional games. “We’ve got these guys again [on Thursday] and we’re looking forward to bouncing back on home ice.”

The last time the two teams met in Dallas, the Stars dominated possession and built a 3-0 lead in a span of 5:42 in the second period. The Jets countered with three goals of their own to tie the game late in the third, but Benn quickly responded with a “beast mode” shift that ended the game-winning goal.

Thursday is an opportunity to harness a similar energy and rebuild their determination.

"“We just have to get the right mindset to be able to play the same at home. Usually, the games at home after coming off the road are tough.” –Stars defenseman Esa Lindell on Nov. 19"

Following the Jets will be a Saturday night showdown with the New York Islanders. The Islanders were the only thing preventing Stars fans from calling Dallas the “hottest team in the NHL” throughout the month of November. New York went on a 16-0-1 run that began on Oct. 12 and didn’t conclude until Nov. 25 with a 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

They play a similar style to the Stars that thrives on defensive efficiency and wearing down the opposition, which could pose a problem for Dallas.

Dec. 10 will bring the New Jersey Devils to town. The Devils fired their head coach on Tuesday after a 9-14-4 start to the year. Their superstar (Taylor Hall) is being publicly shopped on the trade market and the team is performing well below the expectations bar. But that’s just the kind of concoction that can make a team all the more dangerous.

The stand will conclude with a visit from the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 13. Vegas was last in town on Nov. 25 and provided a high energy, back-and-forth effort that ended in a 4-2 win for Dallas.

Each team presents a unique challenge for the Dallas Stars to tackle. Good teams know how to deal with those challenges, regardless of what kind of slump or hot streak they are riding.

“The great thing about sports is that you get to redeem yourself the next time you’re out,” Montgomery said. “It’s not how hard you fall; it’s how quickly you get up.”

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There’s a lot to digest regarding the 2019-20 Dallas Stars right now. And that’s what makes the next month of the season all the more important as the Stars approach the halfway point.

They have proven that they have the determination and perseverance needed to rebound from slumps, so why should this be any different? Sometimes, all it takes to right the ship is a spark.

Just what is this Stars team? We’ll find out more over the next 10 days.