It happens to every team, every season. Eventually, they hit a rough patch during an arduous 82-game season. After a 5-0-2 run to end 2013, the Dallas Stars have lost six consecutive games to start 2014. They look frustrated and at a loss for explanation when it comes to the current slump. Every team goes through bad stretches, but what matters is how they come out of it and how they move on.
The best example this season would be the Anaheim Ducks. They lost five consecutive games and went 3-4-4 before winning 10 in a row and going 17-1-0 in their last 18 games. The Stars’ current six-game losing streak is the worst such streak the team has endured since 1995. As bad as some Dallas teams were over the past ten years, that’s surprising. Also considering this is one of the stronger rosters the Stars have had of late, and one with a hopeful chance at the playoffs, the streak is troubling. They’ve been outscored 24-12 and outshot 197-183. They converted only two of their 19 power play opportunities and killed 73.7% of their penalties over the past six games. It is not time to panic, though. Not yet.
The defense was scrutinized before the season even began, but they survived a rough start to the season and about a month without veterans Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley and Aaron Rome. Goaltending was their savior earlier this season, but they can’t seem to get wins or keep the puck out of their own net right now. The offense has two of the most dynamic young forwards in the game surrounded by grizzled veterans and fast, gritty youngsters, yet they can’t find the back of the net and the Stars’ special teams are struggling to say the least. Having said that, it’s still not time to panic. There is hope.
The Losing Streak Begins
After being dominated by the Canadiens, Red Wings and Islanders to start the new calendar year, they held it together defensively against the Devils. The Devils aren’t necessarily known for scoring (currently 27th in the league in goals per game), but the Stars played more like a unit and had strong goaltending from Kari Lehtonen. The offense, however, looked like a high school team trying to play against an NHL club full of defensemen. The Stars looked completely powerless against the Devils’ defense and backchecking forwards. They struggled just to get in the offensive zone, and when they did, they were quickly turned around to chase down two or three Devils already taking the puck the other way.
They kept up with the Rangers in their next game and looked strong enough to pull out a victory, but a goal by Rick Nash with just under two minutes left in regulation sealed the victory for the blue shirts. For the second time in less than a week, the Stars took a 2-0 lead over the Islanders into the second period only to end up with a loss. Yet again, a goal in the last two minutes of the game sealed their fate.
Lineup Changes Lead to Little Improvement
The Stars changed defensive pairings over the last few games. The goals against were reduced, but critical defensive lapses and turnovers were still the team’s downfall. The forward lines shifted several times, and still no success. Rich Peverley replaced Valeri Nichushkin on the top line for a game. Erik Cole replaced Peverley in the following game, and Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn continued to struggle.
It’s still not time to panic, just time for a few more changes. It’s time to find what works and push forward together.
The biggest positive during the six-game losing streak has to be the line of Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt. They hound the opposition with their speed and physicality, possess the puck well and backcheck with a purpose. They aren’t the most skilled line, but right now, they are Dallas’ fastest, hardest working and most aggressive line. They have also chipped in offensively with six points in that stretch.
The top two lines seemed to be holding steady, so they will remain the same, but the bottom two lines have been reworked. The defensive pairings were changed around recently and Ruff looks to stick with them for a little while longer.
Stars lines this morning: Benn-Seguin-Cole; Roussel-Eakin-Garbutt; Whitney-Fiddler-Chiasson; Horcoff-Peverley-Nichushkin
— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) January 14, 2014
Stars defense pairs this morning: Goligoski-Daley; Dillon-Benn; Connauton-Gonchar
— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) January 14, 2014
The second line is working beautifully and will be relied upon to help get the Stars’ fortunes turned around, but in reality, the team can’t succeed if their top line and defense don’t wake up. Erik Cole provides Seguin and Benn a bullish, direct winger that will put his nose to the ground and go hard to the net, something the duo has struggled with tremendously of late. The third line provides responsible play in their own zone with a quick counter attack punch. The new fourth line should provide strong defense with a lot of hustle and grit on offense.
The defensive pairs are not the strongest we’ve seen this season, but they were alright over the last three games minus some major miscues and turnovers. They are more set for balance throughout the lineup rather than having a top shut down pair and testing out the rest. Lehtonen bounced back from three bad outings to start the year with back-to-back elite performances against the Devils and Rangers. It was more like a return to form for him, and the Stars will need exactly that to turn things around.
The schedule provides opportunities for the Stars to break the slump. Seven of their next nine games are at home. Four of those games are against division opponents and only two games are against teams in the top ten in the league. With very little travel and beatable competition, the Stars can quickly turn the slump into a winning streak.
It is natural to panic during an extended losing streak, but if the Stars hope to finally reach the playoffs, they need to stay patient, fix the mistakes, find what works and push forward together. This is not time to panic. Not yet.