Let's start with the recognition that the difference between good and bad in this league isn't that much anymore. As much as I'd love to say these were horrible teams (Toronto, Florida, Nashville) the Stars just went 1-1-1 against, I'm not sure I can. I think the teams that get points are the teams that make the right plays at the right time.
Tonight, that team was Nashville. The Predators shut down the Stars on a key two-man advantage in the second period and did not allow Dallas to stretch its lead to 3-1 when it probably should have. The Predators then had a relentless shift in the third period with the score tied 2-2, and earned the victory. It was a huge shift in which the Preds simply would not give up, and the Stars simply made too many mistakes.
In both situations, the Mike Ribeiro-Brenden Morrow line was out, and in both situations, they did not come through. That doesn't put the entire blame for the loss on that duo, but it illustrates what happens when your top players aren't playing well. Morrow and Ribeiro had a rough week. Minus-3 against Florida. Minus-2 tonight. They look out of sorts.
And so, the Stars look out of sorts.
Here's Marc Crawford on Ribeiro's trouble on the 5-on-3 power play late in the second period when Jerred Smithson broke his stick and the Stars still weren't able to score:
``That was probably the turning point of the game,'' Crawford said. ``Mike Ribeiro had probably three or four chances to make the play, and he didn't make them. That's why he's on the power play and that's why we have that position, because we have confidence that he's going to make those plays most of the time. It wasn't that he didn't try or didn't see the play, he just couldn't make it.''
And that will cost you in the NHL no matter who you are playing against.
I hate to get into the goaltending battle, because I really do think you guys are just trying to fight for the sake of fighting now. But I thought Alex Auld was pretty good. He made two incredible stops before Patric Hornqvist's game-winning goal. I'm not sure what else you want from him in that situation. He was screened on a couple of other goals, and it seems like several of the Stars defensemen want to stand just inches in front of the goalie when there is nobody else around.
While I'm sure you can break down Auld's mistakes, you can break down a ton of team mistakes before the puck even got to him.
And that's what's so confusing about this team. Are the Stars still learning? Are they tired, inexperienced, lacking depth, or just not that good? It could be all of the above.
But, as we have seen this week, teams that aren't that good can still find a way to win in this league.
Truth be told, this system still is a big change for the Stars, and it requires the confidence to take chances as well as the energy and teamwork to recover when taking those chances don't work out. Over the past week, I have seen this team back off from taking chances...and then have it hurt. I have seen them take chances and not recover...and then have it hurt. So it has to be confusing to them, as well.
The Stars are certainly more exciting to watch, and are certainly more dangerous offensively. They can recover from deficits more quickly and easily, and they can put pressure on the opposition with alarming regularity. But the cost for that excitement is they do make mistakes and they do run hot and cold at times.
So then the challenge is to learn how to be a skilled, offensive team that wants the puck on its stick _ and learning how to use that style to control the game on a more consistent basis.
Call this week a setback in the process, but also call it an opportunity to learn. We'll see if the team learns or not.
No practice Sunday, they are at the Dr Pepper StarCenter in McKinney at 10 a.m. on Monday. The practice is open to the public. Marty Turco (flu-like symptoms), Mike Modano (ribs) and Jere Lehtinen (intercostal muscle) could all be on the ice and all be getting ready to play Wednesday against Calgary.
Then, we can see if improved health leads to more consistency or simply creates even more problems. Because that's kind of how this thing is going right now.