2014 NHL Playoffs: Dallas Stars Defensemen In Game One

Jeff Gross

The top four were rock solid. Now, about the bottom two...

I tweeted this nugget out after the Stars 4-3 loss in game one, but as we approach game two it's worth going into a touch further. The third defensive pair got shredded by the Ducks in the first outing. The table below is the Corsi for and against at even strength for the six defensemen.

Goligoski 16.8 24 19 55.80%
Daley 17.8 26 19 57.80%
Benn 17.8 19 22 46.30%
Nemeth 17.2 20 21 48.80%
Gonchar 9 5 11 31.30%
Rome 8.1 2 11 15.40%

The top four all played ~ 17 minutes and were sturdy Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley were very good. Jordie Benn and Patrick Nemeth both played pretty well too, and given that it was their first taste of playoff action it would be hard to be down on them. Both made several calm poised plays in their own end to avert the Ducks forecheck. Nemeth in particular was very good about this including joining a few rushes offensively.

But we aren't here to talk about the top four. The bottom two were the issue. Aaron Rome and Sergei Gonchar got drilled. In nine minutes at even strength Gonchar was -6 Corsi. Rome was a staggering -9 in eight minutes. They were giving up prime opportunities on top of just shots. The first goal of the game was on a blown coverage by the duo.

The performance issues are problematic, but even more problematic is that in those few minutes Gonchar took two minor penalties. Ryan Garbutt drew a penalty for giving a snow shower to Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen, but I would argue Gonchar's penalties were much more costly.

The Stars aren't dummies. The gap in minutes is impossible to ignore. Gonchar and Rome took half as much even strength ice time as the top four. The coaching staff correctly had this pair pegged as the third unit going into the game too. They were given the minutes generally designated "easy" under Ruff: a low percentage of offensive zone starts predominantly against very low levels of competition.

Unfortunately those low levels of competition still got the best of Rome and Gonchar which highlights the main issue confronting the Stars heading into tonight's game. They have no way of protecting this pair without significantly altering what they want to do, and that just doesn't strike me as Ruff's style. They want to attack. They aren't going to play scared and start worrying about protecting Rome and Gonchar. I would put money on a lineup change.

One possibility they could try is throwing Nemeth back out with Gonchar. The pair worked pretty well after the call up of Nemeth, This would allow Benn to play with Rome and hopefully steady the ship. Benn's two way game would seem to be a better fit with Rome given that he won't be on an island defensively.

The more likely option appears to be scratching Rome in favor of Connauton. The idea of putting Rome in the lineup before Connauton was sound. Good process doesn't always yield good results. The idea was to get a defensive cushion out with Gonchar in the same mold of what Nemeth was doing. Connauton is decidedly not that player. Based on game one though, Rome isn't either.

The Stars had a fine opening game after the first period. Their confidence shouldn't be shaken in the least. This glaring problem needs to be fixed though. They could win despite the problems on the third pairing, but why tempt fate? We will see what the Stars plan to do here in a few hours when practice updates begin coming out.

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