SO! Let us have some fun and quickly recap the last few games for your Dallas Stars, shall we? Last night, they were blanked in New Jersey, preceded by the worst loss in the history of the franchise in Long Island, a blowout at the hands of the hated Detroit Red Wings, and a tough game against a good Montreal team at the American Airlines Center. If you have watched the last few games, then you are probably thinking exactly what I am thinking today – it’s time to panic. The Stars are dreadful and there is no point to watch anymore. Obviously I am using a little bit of Jerry Jones-style “tongue-in-cheek” but my question to you is, what are your expectations for this year?
By now you have heard multiple times that this is a young and developing team. That point must remain at the forefront of your sports-brain as we embark on this journey we call an NHL season. The team is talented enough to reel off an impressive point streak like they had just before Christmas. However, in the game that we like to play called “regression back to the mean,” the team will inevitably endure losing streaks like the one they are currently suffering from.
What is the exact cause for the streak? No one can know for sure. But allow me to present to one potential cause: fatigue.
When you think of this Stars team, who are the guys you are primarily relying on for production? Obviously, there is Tyler Seguin. Keep in mind with Tyler; this is his first season in his young career where he is counted on to play heavy first line minutes. When he was in Boston, he was playing on lower lines with lower ice times. He is currently averaging 19:22 of ice time per game; in Boston, he only just barely crept over 17 minutes per game last season. Two and a half minutes does not sound like a lot, but when you extrapolate that over an entire season, that becomes a heavy amount of added skating. With Tyler, not only is he skating more than he ever has, but he is now doing it against the opposition’s best defensive players.
Now, what about Alex Goligoski? Ah yes. Goligoski. Every Stars fan’s favorite punching bag. In short, Goose has not played well lately. However, with the injuries to Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas, who else can you count on to log as much ice time as Goligoski has this past month? Defending Big D wrote this article about Goligoski on December 9th , shortly after the injuries to Daley and Robidas, praising him for his improved play. At that time, Goligoski was averaging 22:39 per game. In his last 10 games? 27 minutes! This defensive group lives and dies with Alex Goligoski and it is starting to wear on him.
I could continue to make this same point with several other players (Nichushkin, Dillon, etc), but I think you all get the point. The team is too thin at this time to consistently rattle off streaks like they did before Christmas. Building the organization is a process, and it will take more time.
As for this season, making the playoffs is a real possibility. However, they will first need to regain their health on the blue line. Daley is now back but is working regaining his rhythm. Robidas is still a long way away. The trade deadline will be approaching soon, and I believe there are some interesting possibilities for Jim Nill. If the Stars were to make a trade, it will most likely be for a defenseman who they can control for the next few years. When the time comes, I will explore some of the possibilities in depth.
So as the season continues, I ask you to manage your expectations of this team. We are not Chicago/LA/San Jose etc, but we are definitely on our way. Until then, there will be growing pains, much like the Rangers in 2008 and 2009. Small improvements are what we should look for such as maintaining coverage in the defensive zone and not allowing interior scoring chances or clean breaks out of the defensive zone and into neutral ice.
But the number one thing to do when watching this team this year is to have fun and enjoy it.