After two lopsided defeats in a row, one would think that the Dallas Stars might be experiencing a crisis of confidence right now.
Following a stunning 10-0-1 run that boosted the Stars up from the fringes of the Western Conference playoff chase into a secure spot atop the Pacific Division, Dallas has suddenly fallen back to earth with a thud, getting outscored by a combined 9-3 in their last two.
But after a disappointing 4-1 loss to Chicago Friday night, the Stars get three days off and still feel good about where they are and how they’re playing, minus a few mistakes here and there.
“We’re still a confident bunch,” said captain Brenden Morrow
. “We’re in a pretty good position. As of right now, we’re in a playoff spot, so it’s a good feeling where we’re at. We’ve got some tough games, some work ahead of us, but we’re in a better position in the playoffs then if we were grinding to get into one.”
“Stuff is going to happen, we knew we weren’t going to win every game the rest of the way,” added defenseman Stephane Robidas
. “It’s not fun to lose, obviously, but there’s nothing we can do right now. We can be pissed off, we can be sour, but there’s nothing we can do. We lost those two games and the good thing is, we know we didn’t play our best. If you play your best and you’re still losing, it’s devastating, so we know we got better play in us. And we’re still in it. That’s the beauty of it. We still got 10 games left and it’s up to us. We’re still in a playoff spot right now and it’s just a matter of us winning our games. We don’t need help from other teams, we just got to win our games.”
That much is true - despite the two-game stumble, the Stars still occupy the division lead, and the number three seed that accompanies it, at 83 points, with 10 games left on the schedule. They are currently two points ahead of seventh-place Phoenix and eighth-place Colorado, while San Jose, Calgary and Los Angeles are all tied for spots 9-11 with 80 points each.
With a nice three-day break ahead of them, the Stars have a valuable opportunity to get some rest, recharge the batteries and come back refreshed and ready to battle when they next take the ice Tuesday night against the Coyotes in a crucial battle.
“If it was two games ago when we were on a big run, we probably wouldn’t have liked the timing of it, but when you’re coming off a couple of losses like we just had, it’s probably a good time,” Morrow said of the break. “We’re going to be in a big grind here over the next 10 games and they’re going to dictate our fate, so it’s going to be nice to have a couple of days where you could just re-charge the batteries and be ready for that hard push.”
After playing 24 games over the last 45 days, fashioning an overall record of 14-7-3 in that span, the Stars could certainly use the time off, both physically and mentally, to gear up for those last 10 contests.
The squad will enjoy a rare full day off Saturday before returning to practice Sunday at the Dr Pepper StarCenter in Euless.
“I think rest (is most important),” Robidas said. “Sometimes it’s just good to get away from it, get a mental break. It’s been a tough February and early March for us, we played a lot of games in a short amount of time, so I think the timing is good for us to go and rest for a day and go back at it on Sunday and be ready for Tuesday night.”
The break also allows players out of the lineup with injuries a chance to finalize their treatment, and the thought is that both defenseman Sheldon Souray
(four games, lower body) and winger Radek Dvorak
(three games, lower body) will hopefully return by Tuesday.
“The three-day break comes at a great time because it gives us time to heal a couple of the guys, Dvorak and Hammer, and it gives us to time to get away,” said Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan. “And we’re still in a playoff spot no matter what happens here as far as games go and we have to focus on our last 10 and I think this three days gives us a good chance to do that.”
Of course, because every other club fighting for those last few playoff spots will play again before then, there is a very good chance that the Stars will be back on the playoff bubble by the time the Coyotes visit the American Airlines Center (Tuesday 7:30 pm start, NBC-SN - formerly Versus).
Before then, the Stars also acknowledge that while some rest is on the agenda, there is some work to do as well. One aspect to focus on will be to get off to better starts. In the 5-2 loss in Winnipeg Wednesday, the Stars surrendered the opening goal just 2:21 into the opening period, and against Chicago, the Blackhawks jumped on top a franchise-record 10 seconds in, and went up 2-0 at 1:42, forcing the Stars to chase the game right from the beginning.
“We need a better start and that’s been, on our streak, we’d been having good starts, and we’ve been shaky the last two games where we didn’t start good, and they took advantage of it,” Robidas pointed out. “(Chicago) came at us right away and they scored two quick goals. We didn’t do enough of the right things and when you do that against a good team, that’s what happens.”
“I think we’ve shied away from our game a bit,” center Jamie Benn
admitted. “I think we need to get pucks deep, we need to play a simple game between the blue lines, we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with bad starts.”
Another troubling aspect to the previous two games was the re-appearance of defensive- and neutral-zone turnovers that they had pretty much eliminated from their game during the streak.
“It’s the giveaways, the turnovers, those ones are the ones we don’t like in our game and we did it a couple of times,” Morrow said. “We have a few days to clean it up. I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue, which is no excuse. We’ve talked about it. Sometimes you just go out there and you’re brain-dead with the puck and forcing plays. When you get down quick like that, you may try to get it all back in one shift instead of what we had success with lately, which is just grinding and playing a 60-minute game.”
With a chance to rest, relax and re-invigorate over the next three days, the Stars hope to pick back up where they were just a few days ago, when they seemed to be on top of the world. They are counting on a nice boost from their first three-day break since the All-Star break at the end of the January.
And yes, the confidence level is still high, as the club prepares for its biggest game of the season.
“Rest up, re-focus - we got a big one coming up Tuesday against Phoenix, in our division, right behind us in points,” said Benn of the objective for the break. “It’s going to be huge for our team.”
“We got to re-focus and just forget about it, learn from our mistakes and move on,” added Robidas. “It’s like the playoffs. We’ve been in playoff mode for the last two months and in the playoffs, you can’t be moping after a game. We just got to move forward. There’s 10 games left, that’s what we got to focus on - we got to focus on the next one, we can’t look too far ahead. We got a good opponent coming in Tuesday and we’ve got to be ready for that game.”