Reeling Stars ready for All-Star break

BY foxsports • January 21, 2012

In the wake of Saturday's 5-2 loss at Minnesota, the Dallas Stars are now riding a five-game losing streak. Glen Gulutzan's club now has but one game remaining before the NHL All-Star break commences on Wednesday, a Tuesday night date with Anaheim.

And for those who think the Ducks might be a sure "W" like they were earlier in the season, think again. New head coach Bruce Boudreau has definitely righted the ship out in the OC since coming over right after being let go by the Capitals and Anaheim is 7-0-1 in their last eight games, their lone blemish being a 1-0 overtime loss at Calgary on Jan. 12.

This is the same Duck squad that the Stars faced about two weeks ago and lost 5-2 at the Honda Center. Sure, Dallas responded two nights later with a big shootout win over the Kings at Staples Center but that loss at Anaheim was still a bit disconcerting.

Of course, many looking at the Stars' current run of five straight without a win will point to the fact that it is a pretty tough hill to climb considering that the club is without top two centers Jamie Benn, a 2012 NHL All-Star, and accomplished assist man Mike Ribeiro.

And that is definitely a valid point, but there is far more at the heart of this team's recent struggles than not having Benn and Ribeiro in the mix. First and foremost, this team's heart and mental focus has to be called into question.

Effort certainly wasn't an issue in the loss at St. Louis on Monday and the shootout loss to the Red Wings one night later at American Airlines Center, but it was definitely an issue in Friday's shocking loss to Tampa Bay.

And after a solid opening period against the Wild on Saturday night, they basically disintegrated in the second frame, allowing three Minnesota goals within a span of 59 seconds. Unfortunately for Stars fans, that is not a terribly rare occurrence this season.

Not only has this club seemed to surrender multiple goals in a short period of time, but throughout the season, the Stars have also seemed to cough one up not long after a huge tally that allowed them either to draw a game even or even take a lead.

One local hockey pundit accurately pointed out those three goals in less than a minute illustrates that the Stars just didn't have the necessary composure to properly gather themselves after the first Wild goal scored by Devin Setoguchi to prevent that tally from producing a snowball effect, which is exactly what it did for the denizens of the Xcel Energy Center.

But even with their current struggles, Tuesday's game with the Ducks is far from a sure two points for the visitors. That's because if Dallas can stick to their structure, play fundamentally sound hockey and put it together for an entire 60 minutes, they could very well head to the break on a positive note.

Whether they are able to best Anaheim early next week or not, this break is important on several fronts. Naturally, it's most important from a physical standpoint for both Benn and Ribeiro to ensure that both top centermen are completely healed, well rested and ready to roll when the season resumes on Feb. 1 against the same Ducks in SoCal.

However, this break is also important for the Stars from a mental standpoint as it will give Gulutzan, his staff and his players some time away from the game, which just might be exactly what this club needs at this point.

Even with their recent swoon, this season is still far from over. Sure, the Stars' recent losses to the likes of Columbus, Colorado, Tampa Bay and Minnesota are more than a little disappointing to say the least, especially the ones to the Avs and Wild considering those appear to be two of the teams they will be doing battle with for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, but this is still a team that got off to a great start and has shown at times that they can play effective and winning hockey.

And it might be hard to believe but this team is only a few weeks removed from a huge 4-2 win over defending Stanley Cup champion Boston in the final game of 2011, a win that sent Stars fans into the New Year with a very positive vibe.

Maybe all this group needs is a few days off to recharge their batteries, both mentally and physically, time which will allow them not only to reflect on what's gone wrong in the first half of the season, but to also remember what has gone right. But one thing's for sure, if this group is to end a playoff drought that has now reached three years, there are plenty of areas for them to improve in during the second half, take the power play for one.

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