The Dallas Stars, 4-5-0 in their last nine games, still looking for consistency, Gulutzan and his staff have proceeded to pull the trigger on some changes that have been well received and largely effective.
Alex Goligoski has seen his power play time increased and while this may not be manifesting itself every night on the score sheet, the power play has looked much more dangerous as of late. Jamie Benn (and to a lesser extent Loui Eriksson) has been getting double shifted with the fourth line and that's already led directly to better possession and a couple of goals.
The most recent change came last night, as Brandon discussed earlier, with Eriksson's move to the Ribeiro line, placing Ott back with Jamie Benn. The Ribeiro line responded with two goals.
The Stars offense, if you look at the game log heading into last night's game, seems to present itself in three clearly defined segments: The hot start, the drought in November (becoming a yearly tradition) and the last 12 games or so in which they've righted the ship.
The goals per game in those segments are:
|Game #'s||Goals Per Game|
2.92 is well above average and it was headed that way before the tweaks. If you subtract the drought that spawned a five game losing streak the Stars having 102 goals in the remaining 34 games = 3.00 goals per game. That's a top 10 offense.
It's not often people say this, with the power play the way it's been, but it looks like the offense is not the problem...
The move to jump start Ribeiro's line was one we perceived as needed but if you look at the Stars' goal distribution over the last 12 games heading into last night (since Morrow returned and solidified the lines) was it really that bad?
|Benn, Eriksson, Ryder:||16|
|Ribeiro, Morrow, Ott:||9|
|Fiddler, Nystrom, Dvorak:||4|
|4th Line + Defense:||6|
*Again, those numbers for the 12 games heading into last night to gain understanding of what's been happening lately.
That's generally what you'd expect from an NHL lineup, and it's 2.92 G/G. The first line does the heavy lifting, the second line is a not too distant second and the rest of the team fills it out from there. Brandon and I had a conversation about "secondary scoring" earlier this week, feeling that Ribeiro line was not contributing what we expect them to. I put together these numbers before the Nashville game and decided to drop it because evidently the Ribeiro line has been producing. Then Gulutzan goes and tweaks them anyway.
Which is a round about way of saying that all these changes are nice but the thing keeping the team from achieving consistent results night in and night out isn't the offense that's recieving all the tweaks.
You can say "duh" now if you'd like.
Take those three segments in the table above and look at the goals against per game in those periods:
|Game #'s||Goals Against Per Game|
Up and up it goes.
Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley missed a big portion of that middle period, while Robidas and Souray have been absent this last bit. The biggest absence of all was Kari Lehtonen, of course, and that last segement of games includes a couple of sub-par outtings from Andrew Raycrfot and Richard Bachman.
Starting a new segement of what we hope will be relative health last night, the Stars got Robidas back and a good performance from Kari Lehtonen, allowing just one goal. Granted, that's against one of the absolute worst offensive teams in the league (Nashville has scored just one goal in four of their last five games) but the Stars hope that's all a sign of things to come.
"We create a lot of our offense out of our defense, and you see that in games where we play well together,'' Ribeiro said last night. "As a room, we know what we have to do to win games, and we have proven that against good teams.''
The penalty kill hasn't allowed a goal in four straight and what's more, the Stars are playing a disciplined game and not surrendering as many chances as they once were. If that continues, and Kari rounds into early season form, and Souray gets back a week from now, and everyone else can keep themselves healthy, the goals against will come down.
It almost has to - 3.33 goals against per game is a virtually unsustainable pace. When their defensive house is put in order, the tweaks on the other side will yield more sustainable, long term effects as they effort to get their goal differential back to even and beyond.
Tweaking the offense to push for more goals makes for exciting games, but it's not a long term solution to outrunning their problem. Will they be fine once they're healthy, or does the trend indicate a bigger issue?