When the Dallas Stars were given two power plays in the early going of Saturday night's game against the New York Islanders, Glen Gulutzan felt his team could have preemptively changed the tone of a contest that eventually got a little out of hand with a 5-4 score in favor of the visitors.
"If you get two power play chances early and you get one (goal), it changes their mindset," said Gulutzan. "We didn't do that. I thought that was one of the keys."
The Stars, in short order, then trailed by a score of 3-0 en route to a four goal performance from New York's number one line. Dallas responded heroically with depth scoring from Dowell, Vincour, Wandell and Nystrom but their top performers could not get the equalizer, prompting many in the building to ask "Where are Loui, Jamie, and the like?"
Jamie Benn's line finished the game -2. He is pointless in eight of his last ten games. Loui Eriksson is pointless in four of his last five. Mike Ribeiro's line hasn't been much more productive and the power play has suffered as a result, recently ending an 0-for-22 stretch on Thursday night.
Through all of that the Stars are still 4-2-1 in their last seven outings (.643), in first place this morning in the Pacific Division and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff picture. The question is: Can they maintain it with their top offensive threats sharing a bit of a simultaneous slump and how much longer can the Fiddler/Nystrom/Dvorak line supplement it?
Stars "Top Two Line" Players Last 10 Games:
This doesn't look very demonstrative at first. Four of five points in ten games is a pace that hundreds of NHL players would exchange what's left of their teeth for, but it makes for projections in the 40's and 50's, not the 70's and 80's for which many of these guys are shooting, so to speak. At the very least one goal for Jamie Benn in ten games is a little disconcerting.
Now take a look at what Vernon Fiddler, Radek Dvorak and Eric Nystrom have done in the last ten games in comparison after the jump, and why we think that many are due for a "market correction" where scoring is concerned...
The Stars "Third" Line Over Last 10 Games:
That's 21 points from what's consistently called the Stars "top six" forward grouping (sans Morrow and Vincour for the sake of giving those involved a fair shake at these 10 games) and 18 for the Fiddler trio, keeping in mind that they were shutout three times in the sample I've selected.
21 to 18. Five guys versus three. To say that Nystrom, his mustache, and his line mates have been carrying the load for the Stars lately would be a bit an understatement. As with most things, there are a couple of different ways to look at this.
The first, and most pessimistic way is that the third line is going to stop scoring like this at some point, because it's inevitable, and then the Stars will be left with another drought like the one they incurred over 10 periods in mid-November. One hundred years of hockey history demonstrates that guys who have established careers and pay grades of a certain ilk will not continue to produce at a point-a-game level.
The second, and probably smartest way to see it is that the Benn and Ribeiro lines cannot possibly continue to struggle this much. We're talking about five (six when Morrow comes back) players with excellent track records who will eventually turn back into what they have been for years. Jamie Benn is the young one here and that argument may not hold much water but I don't think Stars fans need to be worried there.
Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow are due for massive corrections in their shooting percentages as the numbers inevitably progress toward their career means. Ribeiro's shooting 3% this year. His last five years he's shot 11.8%, 12.3%, 13.5%, 25.2% and 16.2%.
In the case of Brenden Morrow it's not so much his shooting percentage as it is the number of shots taken. He's averaging less than half the shots per game he did last year through his first 20 games. That's due for a correction soon as well. (Josh detailed this much better than I can here in this post, in case you missed it).
The depth they talk about is here and it is producing. Jake Dowell scored Saturday. Tom Wandell scored. Toby Petersen has a multi-game assist streak. Eric Nystrom is a revelation. Radek Dvorak is coming on strong. Vernon Fiddler is exactly what they said he'd be.
That's really, really encouraging moving forward. If the top end talent can restart their engines just as Brenden Morrow, Trevory Daley and Alex Goligoski are returning to the lineup, then this team can have a good five game trip and get back to Dallas with the Christmas present of Kari Lehtonen waiting for them. If the top two lines continue to struggle, however, then it might be a little bit of a rough go for a while, and an uphill battle in January.
At some point, "your best players have to be your best players."