After ripping through the first half of the season, the Dallas Stars have so far found the back-nine of the schedule to be far less hospitable. It wasn't until their 41st game - the exact midway point of the season - that the Stars lost consecutive games this year. However, that initial bump in the road has developed into something a bit more than just a hiccup.
There's no getting around it. The Stars are in a slump. It's really the only way to describe a stretch of one win in seven games. Or two in nine. Or three in eleven.
You get the picture.
Considering how the season started for Dallas, following it up with a stretch like this can be frustrating. Especially when it seemingly comes out of nowhere. But there's something worth mentioning. It's not fun to talk about after things were going so well, but that doesn't make it any less true.
A segment like this was probably inevitable at some point.
That's not to say the Stars should be ok with the recent results. Not at all. There are problems and they need fixing. Sooner rather than later. But regardless, the record books tells you that a run like this was going to hit Dallas eventually. Searching through the archives, it's pretty consistent. It's about the sheer numbers as much as anything. Let's take a closer look.
Dating back ten years to 2006, there have been eight full seasons (not counting this year or the 2013 lockout season). In those years, the team with the best record in the NHL lost an average of 29 games per season (including OT/shootout losses). No first-place team over that span lost fewer than 28. That's over 34% of the schedule. And remember, that's the best record in the league! If you go down to the fifth-place team - which is still a tremendous season - that club loses 33 games a year. That bumps to about 40% of the season. In other words, if that team wins eight of ten, on average, they balance that out by losing six of ten somewhere else. And since these teams are at the top of the standings, there are plenty of segments where they go on winning streaks.
In the first half of the year, the fact that Dallas had not lost back-to-back games all season became part of their identity. It was an incredible feat that deserved to be celebrated. But a run like that is just not sustainable for six months. Teams adjust, players hit dry spells, the schedule catches up with you, guys get hurt. The list of potential reasons is endless. It's not just Dallas. It's everyone. Even the last team standing.
The last five Stanley Cup winners in full seasons all had runs similar to what Dallas is going through. Last year's Hawks went 3-6 in October, and then won two of seven in February. The prior season the Kings lost five straight in regulation in December, and then won one of ten in January. Two years earlier, they went winless in five straight twice, and had two additional lengthy skids of nine and 12 games. The 2010-2011 Bruins had six different streaks where they lost four of five. The 2010 Hawks went 2-5-2 in March - three months before they broke their Stanley Cup drought.
Even the President's Trophy and Stanley Cup winning Stars team of 1999 had a 2-4-1 slump. (Coincidentally, in January.) They also went winless in four straight later that season.
This year there have been two historic winning streaks in the last few weeks. The Blackhawks are on a franchise-record 11-game winning streak. However, back in October and November they won two of seven, in a 2-4-1 skid. The Florida Panthers also made history recently by winning 12 straight themselves. However, before that they went 2-5-3 during a ten-game stretch. They also have dropped three straight since their winning streak was snapped.
Only this year's Washington Capitals have so far avoided the dreaded slump. While I'm no fortune teller, with 37 games to play, the smart money says it's coming somewhere down the line.
However, there is something that cannot be overstated about slumps. The fact that they are inevitable does not make them easy to snap or any less dangerous. Starting strong does not preclude you from getting permanently derailed. If you right the ship, a slump becomes a footnote. If you don't, it could become the story of your season. Fans who followed the Stars back in 2011 know all too well that harsh reality.
Slumps are like your awkward teen years. Nobody wants to go through them, but everybody does. It's how you come out of it that really dictates who you become. And let's face it, some do it better than others.
That's the task at hand now for the Stars. Depending on where you draw the starting point, this stretch has been going for two to three weeks. They still remain third in NHL points, and if they win their games in hand, they could leap past Chicago again. However, if the downward trend continues, that changes everything.
Dallas was so focused on a better start to this year for this exact reason. Because every team goes through this eventually. In prior years, the Stars haven't had the collateral to pay for such a stretch. And it cost them. This year they do. But they just spent a good portion of it, and the rest of the league is not letting up. A once enormous lead in the Central Division has disappeared. Other teams in the West are closing in as well.
Sometimes a setback can provide renewed motivation. And it's easier to learn from a loss than a win. In a long season, teams go through ups and downs together and how they respond to both determines what type of future they inherit. The stretch that the Stars just went through could wind up being instrumental to this season - for better or worse.
That's what makes this point of the Stars season equal parts intriguing and important. The fact that a slump was coming was predictable. How the Stars respond to it is anything but. We're all about to find out the answer.
It could be the most important one we get all season.
A much-anticipated first meeting with the Los Angeles Kings and a very-welcome return back to Dallas are on the schedule for this week.. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as the Stars try to turn things around:
Looking at the numbers behind the Stars recent troubles, Dallas has run into issues they weren't finding earlier in the year. Over the last nine games - a span where the Stars have gone 2-5-2 - the Stars have allowed four-or-more goals five different times. That's the same number of times they allowed four-plus through the first 37 games of the season. If that wasn't issue enough, the output at the other end of the ice has also dried up compared to earlier in the season. The Stars have been held to fewer than three goals in five of the last seven games. That's 71.4% of the time. It only happened in nine of the first 39 games of the season - a rate of just over 23%.
The switch to three-on-three overtime seemed like it would benefit the offensively-gifted Stars as much as any team in the NHL. Early returns seemed to back that theory, with Dallas winning their first three OT games of the season. However, they have since lost their last three, and have a .500 record in three-on-three OT this season.
The Stars struggles as of late have primarily come on the road. A large reason why has been Dallas falling behind early and having to chase games. In the last 11 road games, the Stars have allowed the first goal nine times. Furthermore, that goal was surrendered in the game's first five minutes in six of those games. Even worse, it's come in the first two minutes four times. The Stars have only had a first intermission lead in one of their last 11 road games. As they look to turn things around Tuesday night in Los Angeles, a better start will be a focal point.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.