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Are Stars spinning out of control or looking for turnaround?

Recent results have not been good, but this holiday break could be just what Dallas needs

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- Ah, the beauty of spin.

It's a huge part of pro hockey, where a five-game unbeaten streak can sit right next to a 1-3-0 run, and both can make perfect sense. The recent winning run for the Stars displayed a gritty, gutty character that allowed them to fight through the transition to a new coaching staff by leaning on the identity they have built over 100-plus games.

The losing streak, well, that's been a bit of a hiccup where the best part of the game has sort of slipped away from the team, and now has to be reset after the Christmas break.

It makes sense, really.

 

[READ MORE: Goals a problem in two ways for Stars in loss to Flames | All the best photos from Sunday's game]

 

"We're off our game, clearly, we are," said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness after a 5-1 loss to Calgary on Sunday dropped him to 3-3-1. "This is obviously not the way we wanted to go into the break, but it is. We will come back on the 27th in a better frame of mind and get back on track."

During this most recent stretch, the Stars have been a bit of a mess. They have been outscored 17-10 over four games. They have been outshot 137-113. They have killed just 11 of 18 penalties. That's just not who they are. Ben Bishop has struggled in goal, the penalty kill has struggled, the starts have been streaky at best.

Sunday's game was so much of the same.

Video: CGY@DAL: Bowness says Stars have 'work to do'

Dallas was OK in the first, but still allowed the first goal. It then fell apart in the second period when it allowed two power-play goals against. And then it dug the hole deeper in the third period when it probably took too many risks in trying to come back.

Bishop allowed four goals on 29 shots after giving up six on 20 against Florida Friday. A Vezina Trophy finalist last season, he has not been able to bail the Stars out in these past two games. Fact is, the only way the Stars aren't on a four-game losing streak is because Anton Khudobin made 45 saves Thursday in an overtime win against Tampa Bay.

As much as the Stars have relied on solid goaltending, they can't expect that kind of performance every night. The league-leading GAA that slipped to third after Sunday's game was indeed a team stat, and the team is greatly responsible for these past two games.

Now, if you want to dissect this and look for excuses, there are many. Mattias Janmark was felled by a hard shot and left in the first period. He is one of their better penalty killers. In the Florida game, a puck went in off the skate of Roope Hintz. In all four of these games, you could be upset with the officiating.

But the bottom line is the opposition forced a lot of these penalty calls. The Oilers and Lightning and Panthers and Flames were the better team each night. They tilted the ice and made the Stars chase the game.

"Our guys are going to have to play with a lot more discipline," said Bowness. "You move your feet and keep your stick on the ice, you don't take penalties. But again, listen, our penalty kill has won us a lot of games -- it cost us a game tonight. But it wasn't the only reason we lost the game tonight. We scored one goal. So that's a combination of things."

The Flames took advantage of their situations and cashed in on the power play.

Video: CGY@DAL: Gurianov speeds past defender for goal

"We're just out of sync," Bowness said. "The first two (penalty kills), we had total control the puck and we don't ice it. The faceoff is in our zone, we lose it, and it ends up in the net. On the second one, we won the faceoff clean and we don't get it down and it ends up in our net.

"Those are issues that were in our control that we let slip away. And then we got a little frustrated and we started running and doing things we don't normally do."

And that means the Stars have to be better.

"The NHL is all about the little things," said defenseman Roman Polak, who has been one of the team's top penalty killer. "We just need to focus more on the little things and play together more, and we're going to be fine."

We've said it all year, but a losing stretch can drop you like a rock in the Western Conference. Dallas (20-14-3, 44 points) was in third place in the Central a few games back and now is flirting with the playoff bubble again. Calgary (19-14-5, 43 points) is one point behind with a game in Minnesota Monday. Nashville is four points back with three games in hand.

The Stars could wake up on Christmas with a package of panic under the tree.

They could be facing the New Year with an outdoor crucible against the hard-charging Predators and the specter of fifth place in the Central Division dancing in their heads.

Video: CGY@DAL: Perry breaks down Stars' loss to Flames

See, that's the spin you don't want.

No, the way you want to look at it is that discipline problems should be fixable. This is, after all, a highly-disciplined team.

The way you want to look at it is the penalty kill will definitely be repaired. The Stars have killed penalties with the top five teams in the NHL for the past 100 games. The easy explanation is the goaltending will be better. It always has rebounded in the past.

The Stars last weekend played three games in four nights, and it showed a little. They played three games in four nights this weekend, and it showed a lot. The history of this team in the past two seasons is it plays much better when it is rested. After this break, it will play four games in 11 days.

So, in theory, the chances of a "bounce-back" seem pretty good.

The Stars had a 1-7-1 start, an unexpected coaching change, and still sit six games above "NHL .500." Most teams in the playoffs on New Year's Day are in the postseason in April. That's the spin that seems to make the most sense when you look at the big picture.

"We haven't been playing the way we've played in November and the early part of December," forward Corey Perry said. "We've got to find a way to get back to that."

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Colorado Avalanche at American Airlines Center on Saturday at 6 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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