Dallas Stars Must Improve In Several Key Areas To Make Playoffs

Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

A league worst power play and a league worst 1-11-2 on the second night of back to backs are among issues Glen Gulutzan must fix in a hurry come January 19th.

The Dallas Stars turned over a significant portion of their roster in the off-season and hired a new assistant coach, but a number of lingering issues from their previous campaign still rankle the memory of fans.

Below is a smattering of notable issues from last year and brief discussions on their potential resolutions. What other issues from last season need attention in this brief camp?

Power Play

The number one scapegoat from a season ago was the man advantage, and I broke down the historic futility of it here in great detail. (Digging Deeper Into the Dallas Stars' Franchise-Worst Power Play).

"It's the number one part we have to get better at," agreed Loui Eriksson in April. "We have to score more on the power play, that's the way we can win more games. We have to outwork them. We've been a little too sloppy sometimes. We need to put more pucks to the net, too. I think that's how you score goals."

Their 13.5% power play was the 148th worst power play of the last 5 years (30 teams x 5 season). The subtraction of Mike Ribeiro and the additions of Roy and Ray Whitney (a big part of the Phoenix Coyotes' 29th ranked power play last year) will change the mix. Simply by the virtue of playing hockey this season their chances of beating 13.5% are high. Will it be enough? The one thing that hasn't changed is the architect Glen Gulutzan.

This will be an item of great intrigue early in the season, and the focus of a post later in the week.

Back to backs

This was a familiar refrain last season, and the tale grew in the telling. They finally finished at 1-11-2 on the second night of back to back contests. That's 17% of an 82 game schedule that yielded 4 of a possible 28 points (.142). That kind of points percentage in any split of a schedule isn't acceptable. Doubly so this time.

We're still waiting (and waiting) to see a schedule while the league and players get their ducks in a row for the vote. We don't know how many back to backs a 48 game schedule in about 100~ days can contain but it will be significant, and for the Stars it might be downright cruel, if only to cut down on overall travel and get the most out of road trips.

Dallas was out-scored 52-24 on the second night of back to backs last year, including getting shutout three times. To analyze a trend or suggest a rationalization would be downright dishonest. At first it was Andrew Raycroft being inserted into lousy situations, and really only playing on the road on b2b's, but after a while it became something more. It was in their head. They couldn't score and they couldn't defend.

It's something they're going to have to erase mentally as much as fix strategically. They'll have to find a way to rise near .500 in those contests if they're to make the playoffs.

Depth

The Los Angeles Kings gooned their way to a Stanley Cup last year with unparalleled depth and talent up and down the lineup. Joe Nieuwendyk saw too many nights with too many guys "scaled up" the lineup on second and third lines where they didn't belong last year and acquired some skill to set things right. Or more right than they had been.

Health will play a big role, but there are more bodies, not just at the NHL level, but in Cedar Park that can help. Reilly Smith and Alex Chiasson will not break camp with the team but both are making significant strides with Texas. Colton Sceviour is a guy who, like Ryan Garbutt last year, could step in an contribute in an appropriate role immediately.

NHL quality defensive replacements will be tough to come by, though, and it's there that Dallas must hope for health the most.

Leadership

When Tom Gaglardi spoke publicly in April at the conclusion of the season he was critical of veteran leaders on the team, telling Mike Heika "You look at four straight years without the playoffs, and I definitely think you have to look at your leadership group. I don't think our leaders were our best players down the stretch, and that's something that we need to look at to see if that was a common theme in the last four years."

What was meant at that juncture was unclear, but the Stars now enter a season where Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott have been dispatched for younger talent, and Joe Nieuwendyk is telling media that Ray Whitney is already making a noticeable impact in the locker room before training camp has officially begun. Jaromir Jagr is on his way.

Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski seem poised to take steps in the area of leadership as well, and the Stars hope the older veterans brought it will impact Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson in that capacity as well. Does all that add up to improvement in a 48 game "sprint"? It's unclear, but the mix was deemed insufficient and consequently changed.

Brenden Morrow

All the leadership talk leads (sorry) to Brenden Morrow and a captaincy that might be entering its final year.

It's unfair to say that Morrow was insufficient as a captain last year because of the mitigating circumstances of a very challenging back and neck injury that limited him severely. The veteran additions, according to Joe Nieuwendyk, will aid Morrow in that capacity but it's a productive role on the ice that the Stars need from him the most.

He was counted upon from day one last year to be a top-six, 30-goal power forward for this team, as he's been in the past, but was unable to do so. A year later he's had ample time (thanks, lockout) to heal and re-shape his training in accordance with his physiological challenges.

Whether it's a top-six role due to other injuries or a checking line assignment with some power play time mixed in, the Stars need their captain to be better than he was last year and they feel he will be.

Penalties

You know the story here. Glen Gulutzan knows it better.

Steve Ott (6th in the league with 38 minors), Brenden Morrow (11th with 36) and Sheldon Souray (17th with 34) combined for 108 minor penalties last season, and for far too much of the season the Stars found themselves shorthanded. Their power play/penalty kill time-differential was disadvantageous to say the least.

Two of those names are gone. Morrow's health should cut his number down. Jamie Benn, at 25 minors last season, must also have a more disciplined year. Adam Burish and Mike Ribeiro didn't top the charts like the others but they had their issues with this at times as well, and are now gone.

Expect there to be fewer unnecessary, frustration penalties - But also contemplate where the line is between "lack of grit" and "discipline" this year. The Stars lost a lot of physicality and nastiness this off-season. Will the added benefit of fewer PK's outweigh it? It's at the very least an area of concern.

Penalties are likely to be up league-wide as a result of sloppy play on short notice. Special teams in both forms will be critical elements of the season, and the Stars must improve.

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