Hockey is a results-oriented business. At the end of each game a winner is declared, and the outcome is indisputable. Regardless of allegiance and bias, method and journey, a final score can never be questioned. A win is a win. A loss is a loss. And the standings are on display for the entire world to see. It’s easy to tell which teams have the most points. That’s why nobody is employed with such a task. If you can count, you know the answer.
It’s not as easy, however, to deduce how well a team plays. Which team had a better game? Which players outperformed their counterparts? Who DESERVED to win? Unlike standings and final scores, these questions leave a lot more room for interpretation and debate. You can never argue who actually won. Often you can argue who should have won.
That’s why you hear coaches talk about performance as much as result. A team that plays well won’t always win that night. But they’re more likely to win most nights. And in the end, that is what you want out of your team. Hockey is a sport, more than any other, where the margin between a win and a loss is incredibly thin. Because goals are rare – and a fluky goal is worth the same as one created from a period of sustained pressure – most games stay tight. That means that one bad shift, one bad goal, one crazy deflection off the boards can often be the deciding factor in the final score. Even if it wasn’t necessarily the deciding factor in who played better throughout the entirety of the game.
So that should help explain why Stars Head Coach, Lindy Ruff seemed frustrated, yet quick to point out positives following Saturday’s 5-2 home loss to Chicago. Ruff said that he felt Dallas was the better team for much of the evening. And you can certainly make that case. But a terrible night on the power play, coupled with an inexcusable breakdown while shorthanded late in the second period of a tied game made sure Chicago left the AAC with the two points. Still, despite the loss, it was the latest in what’s turned into a long string of games where the Stars have played well enough to deserve a victory. That’s why Saturday’s defeat can be viewed more as a bump in the road as opposed to an 18-car pile-up.
As a quick aside, let’s be very clear about something. You could also very much make a case that Chicago was the better team on Saturday. That’s why it’s a case, right? It’s debatable. Hossa, Kane, Toews, Sharp were all terrific, and great teams make their opponent pay for mistakes. The Hawks did that better than the Stars. The Hawks unquestionably deserve credit for their performance on Saturday. The point here isn’t to argue that the Stars were the better team. The point is that it is reasonably up for debate. If you’ve been a Stars fan for the last few years, when is the last time you could honestly say that in a game against Chicago?
Goalie - DAL
GAA: 2.01 | Sv%: .932
After starting the season 3-5, Dallas has points in seven of their last nine games. But since we’re talking more about performance than results, let’s dive a little deeper. In the last nine games Dallas is averaging about one goal fewer against, scoring half a goal more, reducing their shots against by about five, and adding three shots per night to their total, compared to their first eight games. Of course this guy has had a lot to do with it, but overall the team’s performance has undoubtedly been better. For this reason, their results have followed suit. Therein lies the process for a hockey team. Just simply be better. The wins will follow.
The Stars are hoping more W’s follow them through a three-game Canadian excursion this week that brings a close to their six-of-seven stretch away from Dallas. Despite coming off of the loss, this week the club was confident heading into Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, but also quick not to dismiss their opponents based on their records. Despite their struggles, Ruff warned of the offensive potency of all three teams and said he expects these to be three hard battles. Besides, the Oilers should be in a great place mentally after their new philosophizing goaltender arrives and puts their 4-13-2 record into perspective.
Dallas has been on the right track lately, but can’t afford to slow down in the fast-paced Western Conference. Even in the metric system, six points is still a lot, and that’s what is on the table as the Stars trek through Canadian soil. As they look to keep stockpiling points, here are some key elements to keep On the Radar:
We’re Off Without the Wizard
The Stars received some bad news on Tuesday when veteran forward Ray Whitney was placed on the IR with a lower-body injury. Dating back to last season, this is the second time in nine months that Whitney has been shelved. He missed about a month and a half last year with a broken foot. There is no reason to suspect that a trend is developing. Even at his (*cough*) advanced age (*cough*), Whitney was a model of consistency over recent years. Before the lockout season, he missed just seven combined games over the prior four seasons. Still, father time catches up to everyone sooner or later, and when a 41 year old gets hurt in back-to-back seasons, you can’t help but point out that he’s…you know…41. Even if this is a completely unrelated incident, there is no estimated time table yet on his return. Hopefully this is nothing more than a short detour, but regardless of whether it’s days, weeks, or more, this injury forces for some adjusting.
People might be surprised to learn that the most consistently intact line this season has been the trio of Whitney, Cody Eakin, and Alex Chiasson. Even more than the top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and (insert name here), the second line has been the one that Ruff has stayed with night after night. The Whitney-Eakin-Chiasson combo has started 16 of the 17 games together, and finished alongside each other in the one game they didn’t. Eakin has found his scoring touch as of late, and despite a current drought, Chiasson still remains among the NHL’s leading rookie scorers. It will be very interesting to see how much of a ripple-effect the Whitney absence has this week. Will it simply be a plug-and-play on that line, or will a complete restructuring of other lines be a more permanent solution for the coaching staff? Does Travis Morin, who has made the American Hockey League his own personal playground this season, crack the lineup? Or will he simply become a NHL healthy scratch? For what it’s worth, Ruff had split up the line in practice this week prior to Whitney being placed on IR, but there’s no word on whether it was related to the now-publicized injury. Whitney has also been playing point on the top power play unit, so that will open a spot on special teams as well. Regardless of how long Whitney remains sidelined, the effect to the Stars roster is a fluid situation that merits watching.
Regardless of what Ruff and company say about respecting their opponents, they also know that in this year’s Western Conference, points must be claimed when they can. And with all due respect to Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, they can be this week. The Oilers and Flames have the two worst records in the West and have two combined wins since October 26. Vancouver, meanwhile, has lost two in a row, dropped four of their last six, and currently find themselves out of the conference’s Top-8 based on winning percentage. I wonder what the John Tortorella press conferences are like these days. (Best of luck, Heika).
While games are not played on paper, the Stars have done a good job of putting away teams they should. This year Dallas is 4-2-1 in games against clubs with a worse record than they have, and 4-5-1 against teams with a better record. The Stars are ahead of Edmonton and Calgary, and just behind Vancouver in the standings. If they can continue to win games they are “supposed to,” it could be a good week for Dallas.
Much of the reason the Oilers and Flames find themselves in the cellar is because of a porous defense. Both clubs hover around average when it comes to goal scoring this season, but Calgary and Edmonton are second to last and last, respectively in goals against. As noted earlier, the Stars offense has been significantly stronger as of late, and there should be no let down in Alberta. Dallas is 7-1 this season when they score three or more goals. That includes a 5-1 rout in the first meeting with the Flames. Calgary allows about 3.5 per game, and Edmonton allows nearly 4. If the Stars can keep the trends alive, statistics suggest that they should reach three goals, and the accompanying two points.
One of the biggest obstacles this week might come from the schedule itself. Over the last few years the Stars have been abysmal when having to play games on back-to-back nights. This year they are 0-3, and remarkably are just 4-20-2 since the start of the 2011-2012 season in the second of games on consecutive nights. With a new regime and considering the amount of turnover the Stars have had, stats from a couple of years ago normally don’t carry much weight relating to this year. And even this case can be taken with a little grain of salt. However, it is worth noting that unlike other trends that bare no comparison to prior years, this one has something to do with the franchise itself. The common link has been traveling from Dallas, which is typically a longer trip than other NHL markets, and then flying elsewhere, all in a short span of time. Every team must deal with segments like these, but for whatever reason, each Stars group over the last three years has struggled with it. Whether you focus on the nauseating .192 winning percentage over the last three years, or simply the 0-3 mark this year, this clearly is, and has been, a hurdle. One additional thing to watch in this upcoming back-to-back is whether or not Kari Lehtonen will start both games, or if he and Dan Ellis will split the duties. Lehtonen has played every minute since he returned off of IR on October 24. Ruff had said he intended to ride Kari often, but eventually he’ll have to get a night off. Whether it’s the Big-Fin or Ellis between the pipes, the Stars need to figure out the two-in-two. After this week they still have nine more this year for a season total of 13. A dismal winning percentage in those games could be the difference between playing and watching mid-April.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Josh Bogorad is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars.