Welcome to the grind. After starting the season with a 4-0-1 record and all the accolades that go with it, the Stars had NHL reality rear its ugly head and remind everyone that the season is long, there are bumps along the way, and no one has ever clinched a playoff spot in October.
The night in Boston began on an ominous note as just 30 minutes before game time, it was announced that Miro Heiskanen would miss the game with an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. In some ways, Heiskanen is the Stars most important skater. His quality of performance from Time-On-Ice, to quarterbacking the power play, to defensive prowess is nearly impossible to replace at an equal level. Injuries are part of the grind. No team avoids them completely and good teams find ways to overcome them.
The Stars had a pretty cushy travel schedule to begin the season. This road trip was anything but easy. Four games in six days, back-to-back games to finish, and the last game against the team with the best record in the NHL. Dallas started to look fatigued in the third period against Ottawa.
The heavy legs were apparent in Boston especially as the team had to play come from behind in the final 20 minutes of play. Jim Montgomery’s Bruins team implemented a system that should have looked very familiar to Dallas fans. It’s hard to get through the layers of defense on a good night and even harder when the tank is pushing on empty. Load management is part of the grind. The Stars are still a veteran-laden team and they know how to adapt. (Although NOTHING will ever be as bad as 2021 with 11 weeks of four games in six nights).
Dallas Stars Head Coach Pete DeBoer has often stated the team has areas that need work. The Power Play has had a rough patch in each of the last two games going a combined 0-6. Offensive zone entries have not been consistent and attack time with the man advantage has suffered. The parade to the penalty box is still a thing. Four more power plays allowed in Boston bring the season total to 34 in only 7 games. That cannot continue as a trend. Part of the grind is improving as the season wears on.
The bottom line, however, is still pretty good. The Stars are tied for the Central Division lead with a record of 4-2-1. Dallas has only played two of those first seven games at home. The new attacking style of hockey has been a welcome change and the team should improve their familiarity with the system as the season goes forward. The next three home games should be an excellent barometer of where this team stands. Washington, New York, and Los Angeles are all playoff teams with outstanding talent. The grind means every game is a new chance to prove something, no matter the opponent.
The best part of the grind is the end result. In the NHL, no team accidentally makes the Stanley Cup playoffs. Survive and thrive during the regular season and your team will earn the chance to face the ultimate gauntlet in post-season sports. The pomp and circumstance of a new season is over for the Dallas Stars. It’s time to get down to business and start grinding.