Stars Offense Looks to Turn Up the Heat in December

All I want for Christmas is more Dallas Stars Offense.

There is one man to which hockey fans invariably turn when a season sours and the points stop rolling in: The Goaltender. While it's true that Marty Turco has given up three or more goals in six of his last seven starts, I don't think that's the reason the team isn't winning. It's A reason, but it's not the biggest reason. The largest contributing factor to me is the offense, or rather, lack of it.

"Wait a minute, the Stars are 9th in the league with 79 goals."

Yes, it's true. They have scored the 9th most goals in the NHL so far this season. When the coaching change took place in the off-season, we heard tales of a more wide open game; An up-tempo game. The offense was going to be jump started by a new approach and more skating. Lo and behold, October came and those prognostications were largely vindicated by a Stars team that scored four or more goals in nine of their first fourteen games.

What happened in November?

Goals PP Goals  Even Strength Goals  EN Goals  Short-Handed Goals
October 48 11 34 2 1
November 31 15 16 0 0


That's a decrease from 3.42 goals per game to 2.38. That's a precipitous 31% drop of over a goal per game from month to month. Factor out the offensive explosion against a stingy New Jersey team and the number goes down to 2.16. How does the output from basically the exact same group of players change so dramatically over such a short period of time? I don't think we can blame injuries this year. The lines have been shuffled quite a bit, yes, but the team has been quite healthy this year.

After the jump, a look at the power play and the Stars lack of blue-line scoring...

The Power Play

Even more puzzling is that this drop off in offense occurred as the power play was getting better. The Stars had one of the hottest power plays in the league in November. Before the Detroit game on Monday, the Stars boasted a 24% power play in 13 November games. Few teams lean on their power play to provide more of their offense than the Dallas Stars:

Team Total Goals PP Goals PP Goals %
Anaheim 72 25 .347
Vancouver 78 27 .346
Buffalo 64 22 .344
Dallas 79 26 .329
Minnesota 61 20 .327
Toronto 69 22 .319
Tampa Bay 66 21 .318
Detroit 73 23 .315
Edmonton 78 24 .308
New Jersey 59 20 .308

 

Nearly a third of every Dallas Star goal has been scored with a man advantage. Relying on your PP for a third of your offense is not an ideal strategy, but look at what they did in November: 15 of their 31 goals were scored on special teams. They're clinging to the power play for dear life like a life-preserver in the middle of the ocean. And if that's not enough of a fine line to walk, we can look even closer to see that things not only hinge on one part of their game (the PP) but on one man in particular: Brad Richards.

The power play has always been a big part of Brad Richards' game, and the Center is getting ample opportunity to put points on the board this season with the extra man. After a decade of Sergei Zubov as the Stars power play quarterback, the special teams unit found itself in need of a new leader and Richards has been more than happy to fill in. He has seen his PPTOI (power play time on ice) per game increase from 4:05 last season to 5:20 this year. Only four other NHL players spend more time on the power play this season. His power play production is also helped by the fact that the Stars are first in the league in power play opportunities with 128.

Richards has been on the ice for 24 of the Stars' 26 power play goals. He missed one of them due to injury, and has sat on the bench only once and watched his team get one without him. In other words, if Brad Richards isn't on the ice, don't hold your breath on the PP.

Even Strength

Is the ability to score even strength goals a hallmark of the better teams in the league?

Team (top 10) Total Goals PP Goals Even Strength Goals*
San Jose 98 27 71
Pittsburgh 88 17 71
Washington 91 23 68
Atlanta 83 21 62
Colorado 83 21 62
Calgary 81 19 62
Chicago 79 21 58
Columbus 82 25 57
Los Angeles 80 23 57
Ottawa 73 16 57

*I say even strength, but short handed and EN goals are included in that number


San Jose, Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, Calgary... It's not perfect but I think it makes a decent point nontheless. The Stars are middle of the pack (#14) with 53 non-power play goals (one was a shorty, two empty netters), but again, 37 of those of those came in October. Only 16 in November.

Blue Line Offense

An area of potential handicap for the Stars offense each night is the defense. We love our defensemen, we really do, but they're not the most offensive bunch. Some would say they don't need to be, but offensive contribution from the back end is a commonality among the top teams in any given year.

Here's a smattering of Western Conference teams and the point totals from their defensemen.

Points From Defensemen
Chicago
72
San Jose 70
Phoenix 61
Colorado 59
Columbus 59
Calgary 55
Detroit 53
Anaheim
52
Los Angeles
48
Nashville
46
Dallas 41

*Data does not include Monday games

Up until Stephane Robidas' recent offensive explosion of sorts, these numbers were even worse. He has 18 of their 41 points. Much pre-season attention was paid to Trevor Daley, speculating that he might flourish under Marc Crawford and the new mentality of the team. Two months in to the season Trevor has only one goal and three assists to show for it.

 

Conclusion

I thought the Stars offense was in a bit of a lull. When I took a closer look, I had to call for a crash cart and the defibrillator paddles. I don't know how to explain how the same group of 20~ guys can just turn it off like that, but I sincerely hope they can find the on-switch again.

So remember to ask Santa Claus for a Loui Eriksson hat-trick, or a Karlis Skrastins prayer from the blue-line, because it's going to be quite the long winter of discontent if the Stars don't start lighting the lamp more consistently soon.

*Disclaimer: Not all stats reflect Monday NHL games

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