DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 29: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates the puck with Steve Ott #29 of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 29, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Dallas Stars playoff train hasn't lost much momentum over the past week. Since the last scoring chance report the Stars have gone 2-0-1 with victories over Edmonton and Calgary with a shootout loss to Pittsburgh thrown in the mix. The subjects of this report will be the Pittsburgh and Edmonton efforts.
The Stars outchanced Pittsburgh and Edmonton 31-29. They've continued their excellent special teams run by outchancing both opponents 11-6 in total when someone has an extra man. The two games couldn't have looked much different, but the Stars were still able to pick up three out of four possible points. At this point of the year results are what matters. The Stars are getting results still, but we can still gain some insight from looking at what is actually happening. I'm not sure where this is going, but the ultimate point is that after the jump you can find the results from the Stars shootout loss to Pittsburgh and win in Edmonton.
The Stars 4-3 shootout loss at the hands of the Penguins was one of the more entertaining games of the season. The Stars energy level continued to peak, and the combined 37 scoring chances is a reflection of that. Every line contributed so much that the ice time really sticks out to me as odd. The trio of Tom Wandell, Tomas Vincour, and Ryan Garbutt only saw the ice for about six minutes. Whether that is a good decision or not is a debate for another time, but it seemed like they were on the ice for more than that. They were the authors of the long possession maintaining shift midway through the second period which seemed to last 90 seconds. The one excellent shift accounting for a quarter of their ice time stuck out as strange to me.
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One shift doesn't make a game, but ir was further evidence that the Stars are continuing to develop their identity. The Stars actually outchanced the mighty Penguins 21-16 for the game. On special teams the Stars outchanced the Penguins 8-6 thanks to two shorthanded chances. It seemed like the Penguins were generating more powerplay chances than I recorded, but most of what the Penguins do on the powerplay is from questionable scoring areas. James Neal and Evgeni Malkin would routinely skate close to the prime scoring area. They got just close enough to make you question whether or not a given shot was really a scoring chance, but not close enough for me to give them credit for all of them.
The Stars top scoring chance generators against the Penguins were the Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder, and Loui Eriksson line again with help from the duo of Mark Fistric and Trevor Daley from the blueline. They put up +5, +7, +6, +5, and +6 even strength scoring chance nights respectively. The third line of Vernon Fiddler, Eric Nystrom, and Radek Dvorak had a rough night trying to check Malkin and Neal. The line was a collective -4 with difficult starting positions throughout the night. The strategy of using Wandell, Vincour, and Garbutt as a defensive line responsible for spurring the Stars transition game is apparently gone for good. It's a shame, but Wandell and Vincour are ticketed for the minutes the Stars fourth line was getting early in the season despite proving to be significantly superior.
Following the loss the Stars left the comfortable confines of Dallas, TX to head out for a Canadian road trip. The first stop on the tour was in Edmonton. The Stars walked out of Edmonton with the ugliest 3-0 win imaginable. Both teams were poor. The Stars had little excuse for being as poor as they were. The Oilers defense has been comically bad at times this year. But as you might notice, Cam Barker is standing around doing nothing in that link. Against the Stars he was standing around doing nothing also, but this time in the press box as the Oilogosphere rejoiced. That's only half tongue in cheek. The Stars were poor against the Oilers despite the decision. The Stars complete inability to generate offense against such a poor defensive team was incredibly frustrating.
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Against the Oilers the Ribeiro line was completely neutralized. The trio were a collective -2 chances at even strength. Most of that stems from the fact that the Stars were consistently taking defensive zone draws. As a group the Stars took 31 offensive or defensive zone faceoffs. 21 of those were in the defensive zone. A 33% offensive zone start percentage is going to get you killed most nights in the NHL. The Stars were lucky they were playing the Oilers or the game might have been in doubt.
The only line that was particularly effective was the line that is slowly being marginalized. The Vincour/Garbutt/Wandell trio was even at even strength. Vincour recorded a tap in goal from a foot away with Nikolai Khabibulin somewhere in Vancouver after being bowled over by his own teammates (remember...comically bad). You can rarely give the individual scoring an empty net goal much credit, but it's worth noting that Vincour was in the right position to score the empty netter. His struggles to get in scoring position have been chronicled all year so it's at least a little encouraging to see where he was when he snapped the wrister home.
The Stephane Robidas/Sheldon Souray pairing led the defenders. Robidas was +2 chances and Sheldon Souray was +1. Daley and Fistric were a sparkling -7 and -8 on the blueline in a game where the Oilers only generated 13 chances. Luckily it didn't come back to bite them.
You will need to check in tomorrow to see the results from the Stars shootout win over the Flames. These posts get long as is. Jamming a third game into the mix would do nothing but extend this process to term paper-like proportions. I finished college specifically to not write term papers anymore so I'm going to avoid that at all costs. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or send me a tweet as always.