How do you know when you can’t catch a break? Is it when you drop three consecutive one-goal games to start the season? Or how about when your big guns finally will the team to a win only for the club to then go on another three-game losing skid? Or is it when, faced with the prospect of dropping seven of your first eight games, a jaw-dropping, already-goal-of-the-year-contending, between-the-legs game-winner sends you to a fourth straight defeat and a place in the NHL’s basement? Because all of the above would describe the Dallas Stars.
Make no mistake, as we enter the third week of the NHL season, the Stars are reeling. And Wednesday’s defeat at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, which came on the strength of Sonny Milano’s aforementioned goal-of-the-year candidate, did nothing but drive home that little has gone or is going Dallas’ way – or according to any pre-season plan or expectations – right now.
The expectation, of course, was that Dallas would enter this season and establish itself early as a threat in the Central Division and a contender in the Western Conference. After all, this is a Stars team that earned a wild-card berth and came within one goal of a trip to the conference final last season. This is also a Dallas franchise that went out and had itself an A-plus summer, bringing in former San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, veteran defender Andrej Sekera and a feisty Corey Perry, who was bought out by the Ducks and came to the Stars with a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder. Add to the new faces a one-year-older, one-year-wiser Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz surrounding the established centerpieces and there was every reason to believe Dallas was going to hit the ground running. Instead, they’ve landed with a splat.
It’s not just that the results have gone sideways on the Stars, though. It’s the way in which Dallas has struggled that has been most concerning. Much of what the Stars did this off-season, not the least of which was bringing in perennial 30-goal threat Pavelski, was targeted at boosting the attack and providing secondary scoring to a club that finished last season tied for the third-lowest goal total (209) and goals per game rate (2.55) in the NHL. In the early part of the season, a summer spent restructuring the offense hasn’t paid dividends in the least.
To wit, through eight games, the Stars have only a single player with more than a pair of goals. That’s Hintz, who is leading the way with four. Meanwhile, Heiskanen has two, Seguin has two and the rest of the group has either one or none. Included on that long list is Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Radek Faksa, among others. Perry has also yet to register a point, although he gets a pass given he’s missed all but Wednesday’s game due to injury.
It’d be one thing if this was simply a matter of Dallas firing blanks through the first eight games. And to be sure, that has been a factor. After eight games, the Stars’ all-strengths shooting percentage ranks 30th in the NHL at 6.7 percent. Their six percent success rate at 5-on-5 is also second-worst in the league through the first two full weeks of the campaign. And at three percent on the power play, only the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators, who have yet to score on the man advantage, have had less shooting success with an extra skater. But there’s more at work here than bad percentages.
According to a number of underlying measures, the Stars haven’t generated much of anything on the attack. Dallas ranks 26th with 48.9 shot attempts and 25th with 27 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. At all strengths, the Stars rank 25th (52.1) and 26th (27.8), respectively. And while the attempt generation has been much greater on the power play, Dallas’ ability to actually get the puck through has been awful. At 44.1 shots per 60 minutes – albeit across a mere 6:37 on the advantage, which ranks 16th among all teams – the Stars rank 27th in the league. The result is a power play operating at a dismal 4.2 percent right now. So, as much it seems to be an issue with beating keepers, Dallas is having as much difficulty simply beating opposing defenses. And that lack of threat is somewhat astounding given the number of presumed offensive weapons.
Despite those numbers and what they suggest about the effectiveness of Dallas’ offense, though, the reality is that it’s early. Really early. And frankly, far too soon to do something reactionary. Chemistry develops over time and early season struggles don’t necessarily mean the Stars need to make any significant changes in search of a quick fix quite yet. That’s particularly true when, defensively speaking, Dallas has still been one of the league’s more limiting teams in shot attempts, shots and chances against. That’s promising. It’s something the Stars can build on. It gives them a way forward. And while his numbers leave something to be desired right now, Ben Bishop is one season removed from Vezina Trophy contention. He hasn’t done it yet, but he can steal games and, in doing so, help get the Stars back on track.
That doesn’t mean GM Jim Nill’s fingers won’t creep ever-closer to the panic button if this continues and the losses continue to pile up. They most certainly will. And if the Stars can’t get on track, Nill is going to have to seriously consider his options. For the time being, patience is the watchword. But if that patience dries up, don’t count out the possibility of changes – and meaningful ones – in Dallas.
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