The Dallas Stars defense has been poor for most of the season. The reasons are numerous and have been ground into a fine powder at this point. Glen Gulutzan has been preaching work ethic. The Stars players have preached work ethic. We know they're trying hard. But, as the saying goes, work smarter not harder. It's very easy for anyone in any walk of life to say "if I keep working hard I will get out of this mess". That isn't necessarily true, and at times that mentality has a tendency to keep an individual from exploiting all of the advantages at their disposal.
Such was the case with your neighborhood (if you live in Uptown) hockey team. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago here, but it's definitely worth a deeper look. Prior to the All Star break they rolled three lines almost regardless of the situation. Everyone on the Stars had zone start percentages under 50% (meaning they took more defensive draws than offensive). The defense was getting exploited with inferior defensive players stuck in the defensive zone. Coincidentally those inferior defensive players are also superior offensive players (Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder), and when they aren't near the net they can't score. Coach Gulutzan has adjusted to this strategic hole. It's a perfect example of what Brandon was talking about here. Despite outward appearances at times he is leading this team. It takes a strong leader to recognize a deficiency then act appropriately to fix the problem. Gulutzan is doing just that. After the jump the dramatic impact the reorganization has had on the entire roster will be shown.
To make things easier to digest I've broken the Stars roster into two groups: forwards and defensemen. The first group we'll take a peek at are the defensemen. Both of the tables below are organized in similar fashion. Position and player name are the first two columns. The final two columns are Post All Star Break Offensive Zone Start Percentage and Season Offensive Zone Start Percentage. What the number is doing is determining what percentage of critical faceoffs (offensive and defensive zone draws) were taken in the offensive zone. In other words OZ/(OZ+DZ). Over 50% means they are assigned predominantly offensive zone time and vice versa. The defensemen:
The biggest defensive change is how the Stars are utilizing Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray. Souray has been hurt for most of this stretch so focus on Robidas. He is being fed offensive zone time on a nightly basis. 65% offensive zone starts is a ridiculously high total. To put that in perspective Steve Montador currently leads all defensemen in the NHL who have played at least 50 games in offensive zone start percentage at 61.3%. Daley's 58% would slot in the top five also.
Gulutzan has started getting his offensive players in the offensive zone. The fourth line is now expected to play tougher defensive minutes. The Stars are using the Vernon Fiddler trio as an actual checking line. He and Radek Dvorak both have less than 40% offensive zone starts since the break which would slot them among the 20 most defensively oriented forwards in the league. At times they've been over their heads, but they have a lot of fight in them. They're giving Kari Lehtonen more of a chance to make saves at the very least.
The other end of the spectrum is the Ribeiro group. They aren't good defensively. They've been stuck in the defensive zone all season getting frustrated instead of doing what they do which is score. Since the break they've picked up 67% offensive zone starts which would slot them in somewhere around the second most offensively oriented group in hockey behind the Sedins and about equal with Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane. They've looked much better lately. It should come as no surprise. As much prime ice time as they're getting they should look better.
All of this is to say remain patient with the coaching staff. They're working to fix as many problems as they can, but it isn't completely in their hands. They didn't build the roster. They can't go on the ice and execute for the players. They can only control so much. What they've shown lately is that they're willing to give a critical self-appraisal of their work to make improvements to the on ice product. It's a sign of true leadership, and it shouldn't go unnoticed.