I'm not going to give you the numbers. We all know that, despite their 6-3-1 record over the past ten games, the Dallas Stars are struggling offensively. The power play is still trying to find any sort of groove and more concerning, the best players on this team are in the midst of a long, frustrating slump.
Michael Ryder, Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson -- who took over the top line status immediately this season -- suddenly find themselves struggling to score goals. While Ryder and Benn did manage to hook up for the first goal of the game against the Kings, on the power play no less, the team's best even strength line has completely gone dry when it comes to putting goals on the scoreboard over the past month.
It's tough to say exactly what's going wrong, although it is clear that the lack of scoring depth on this team is causing significant matchup issues for the top line. Opponents can put a lot of focus on Jamie Benn and company and after their two-week surge late in October, it's apparent that teams know exactly how to counter the top line's attack. Benn and Eriksson are finding increasingly less room to operate, especially as teams have started to attack them immediately as they cross into the offensive zone.
No matter what the issue may be, the Stars need their best players to step up -- immediately.
Okay, I lied. Here are some numbers.
In the past eight games, Jamie Benn has just three points (1-2-3) and is a combined minus-4 in those games. In that same period, Loui Eriksson has just two points (0-2-2) and is a combined minus-6. While certainly respectable numbers, currently Benn is on pace for just 68 points and 19 goals -- not exactly the sort of production we're expecting from the future leader of this franchise.
The extended lump is frustrating and a bit worrisome, as the top line becomes increasingly susceptible on defense. Whereas before during the slump we could shrug our shoulders and pass it off, since that line played so well defensively, the lack of production is now being outweighed by the line becoming overmatched on defense.
Now, this trend is not expected to continue. Loui Eriksson now has 400 games in the NHL and if nothing else, we know exactly what sort of player he is capable of being. Eriksson has had some struggles lately but just like Benn, it's been more a lack of luck than anything as the top line increasingly falls victim to bad bounces and a case of "trying too hard." What needs to change, however, is that as his slump has progressed so has his offensive pressure; just eight shots on goal in his past five games.
Jamie Benn is also just 22 and has shown that he is a streaky player so far in his career. The key for Benn is to take that next step and become a consistent offensive threat. It's a tall task for a 5th round draft pick who has really just come out of nowhere the past few seasons; these are the expectations now sitting squarely upon his shoulders.
We've seen flashes that Benn is close to breaking out again. He had several prime chances against the Rangers and he and Eriksson failed to connect on several odd-man rushes, where in the past these were slam dunk plays for the duo. Unlike Eriksson, Benn is still peppering the net with 21 shots on net in the past five games.
The big question now is just how long can the Stars afford for these two to come out of their slump before the team has to make changes. Sometimes, even if they are playing well overall, a bit of a jolt is needed to break offensive players out of their slump. Perhaps putting Eriksson with Ribeiro and Morrow would help to spark his offensive output, as Eriksson is an incredibly finisher around the net for a playmaker like Ribiero.
With Benn, he's still learning how to play center. While being a better playmaker for your teammates is certainly a big part of the position, there are a significant amount of responsibilities for centers in the NHL that takes a while for a player to get used to, especially if that's not their natural position.
Gulutzan has tried this a couple of times during games, but I wonder if moving Steve Ott to center and sliding Benn over the the wing would do a great thing for his confidence, as well as freeing him up to do what he does best offensively. Benn and Ott have played well together in the past and you wonder if this would be something that would be exactly what is needed to get more offensive balance up and down the top three lines on this team.
Ideally, Eriksson and Benn would figure this out on their own and continue to grow together to be the next great duo for the Dallas Stars. We thought this was happening earlier this season but they've hit a wall and it's obvious they're struggling to get over it right now. If splitting them up is indeed the answer, I doubt it would last very long.
For the present, in the here and now, the Stars need scoring and they need offense. Benn and Eriksson are the catalysts for that offense and this team needs them to start scoring again if they hope to continue to improve and make that push for the postseason we're all hoping for.