Which team are the real Dallas Stars?
Is it the team that posted a seven of eight stretch early in the year or the team that had a disastrous zero points in a five game road trip which was extended to six straight losses upon arriving home? The losing streak took them from the cusp of playoff eligibility in the strong Western Conference to now having to struggle to get back in the race.
With Monday's loss to Nashville, the Stars are 1-8-1 in 2014.
No team in the NHL has had a more comprehensive retooling over the last year. A new general manager in Jim Nill, a new coach in Lindy Ruff and a dramatic turnover of front line players. Five consecutive non-playoff seasons will do that to a team.
So what has gone right and what has gone wrong?
Things are looking up but Ruff still has a lot of work to do, as evidence by the league's No. 29 ranked power play. The team’s goals against average has hovered around 3.00, near the bottom of the NHL. Although Keri Lehtonen has been a workhorse in goal, his numbers are down. No Dallas netminder has posted impressive stats since the days of Marty Turco’s prime.
In addition, the extended absence of solid blueliner Stephane Robidas due to a broken leg has hurt the team big-time.
In the tough Western Conference, a team might sneak into the playoffs with the Stars' goal production, but not with its defensive shortcomings.
Familiar veterans Brendon Morrow and Loui Ericksson are gone, as are hired guns Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder. Nill went out on a limb by bringing in Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley from Boston. Seguin in particular has thrived in his new home and with his newfound maturity. His 21-23-44 output, well on pace for a career year, leads the team. However, during the team's slump, he has gone nine games without a goal.
Captain Jamie Benn and veteran Erik Cole have played well, and rookie Valeri Nichushkin has provided some pleasantries between rookie mistakes. Coach Lindy Ruff said of Nichushkin, "He had some tough moments. He's good , he's young. He's 18. He's going to have some ups and downs."
The overall goal production of the team is insignificantly different from last year and despite Seguin and the arrival of Sergei Gonchar, the Stars' power play has been ineffective.
Ruff continues to be positive and, as is his style, looks to the bright side of the rebuilding process. He took the slump as a mere blip in the progress.
"It's a great way to judge a person's character, when you're dealing with adversity and we're dealing with it right now." In discussing the loss to the Rangers during the losing streak, he said, "It's painful when you battle all game long and one goes in with two minutes left. You just have to get over it and move on to the next game knowing that we did some things better. ....We cleaned up a good portion of our game. I stress not playing a scared game."
He went on to discuss excessive giveaways and not finishing opportunities, both of which were hallmarks of the losing streak.
What do the Stars have to do to come out of the funk and make it a race for the playoffs?
Obviously, a little more attention needs to be paid to keeping the puck away from Lehtonen. Even with a save percentage of .913, when he faces an average of 32.2 shots a night - Dallas ranks 25 in shots against - the math indicates that Dallas will require three or more goals to win.
Then there is the chemistry issue. The top three centers, Seguin, Peverley and Shawn Horcoff are all newcomers. Young Nichushkin has star potential but needs some development time.
The ingredients are there. The playoffs will be tough this year but with a little tweaking of personnel and a little more time to get to know each other, the Stars should be just fine.