The Dallas Stars are back in first place. With the Stars 3-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers they jumped back ahead of the San Jose Sharks to, at least for today, reclaim the division lead. It was a much more difficult task than it initially appeared it would be. The Oilers currently sit in 14th place in the Western Conference, and 29th overall. They gave the Stars a fight. The Stars only outchanced the Oilers 17-16.
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The Stars outchanced the Oilers 13-9 at even strength, but they were outchanced on special teams 7-4. They gave the Oilers two shorthanded chances. One was to Jordan Eberle. The other was to defensive defenseman Nick Schultz. Needless to say, that was a little unexpected. The special teams have been an issue as much as any other problem lately. We'll take a lot at them and the player chart after the jump.
The Stars penalty killing has jumped all the way into the top ten in the league. They've been on fire as a unit since the All Star break. A lot of the credit for the improvement goes to Paul Jerrard. Since he took over the unit the Stars have been pressuring opposing powerplays up the ice more which is allowing the Stars to generate more offense, and seems to be keeping the opposition's power play attack zone time down.
The problem is that they're still giving up a lot of short handed chances. That isn't necessarily a reflection on how well they're playing a man down though. They've consistently been on the kill more than they've had the extra man which will ultimately lead to more chances against. The Stars saving grace has been Kari Lehtonen, but eventually that bubble is going to burst. It began to against Calgary as the Flames netted three powerplay goals in their 5-4 win. Below is what the Stars special teams look like in March.
In March the Stars have been outchanced on special teams by eight. Eight over 13 games doesn't seem like a particularly large number at face value, but that's a special teams chance % ([PPf+SHf]+[PPa+SHa]) divided by total chances) of 44.9%. Over the course of a full season that isn't going to get things done. They've been saved by the up ice pressure Jerrard has had them applying of late. The Stars have generated seven short handed chances in March, and 13 since the All Star break. They had 16 in the three months before the break.. They've bailed out the special teams disparity with the up ice pressure while short handed, but the lack of powerplay time is going to catch up to them eventually.
The Stars most positive player last night was Alex Goligoski. He was +6 chances at even strength in 13:38 minutes. He has climbed back to +56 chances for the year after another solid effort. The points aren't coming for him lately, but he's still making an impact. The same can be said for his partner Philip Larsen. He was +3 in similar ice time, and is now +5 chances in his rookie season.
Several forwards had solid nights. Jamie Benn, Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson, Ryan Garbutt, and Tomas Vincour were +4 chances. Michael Ryder was +3 with two goals. Ribeiro's 2012 surge has saved his season. He won't break even for the year (barring something ridiculous), but if he continues to play well he'll get close. He's -27 right now, but that's miles away from the lows of December. Vincour is also now +8 after a rough start and relatively few minutes.
The Stars gauntlet officially begins now. They have the Canucks, Blues, Predators, and Sharks twice remaining on the schedule. They took care of business in Edmonton. With five games to go they improbably sit atop the Pacific Division, and they're going to have to go to work to close this out. They can do it if they continue to play well at even strength like they did last night.