October has been an interesting month for the Dallas Stars. If you had approached me in late September and said the Stars would have 17 points on November 3rd and will be 6th in the conference, I would have been pretty content with that. I don't think any expected the Stars to contend for tops of the NHL right away, and we expected a learning curve as the Stars got used to a new coaching staff and became comfortable with a new system.
It's funny how expectations can change perception.
The Stars have lost five games in overtime or in a shootout this season, tied with the Islanders for most in the NHL. That's five chances the Stars had to be 8-3-3 or even 10-3-1. Those records seem incredibly impressive compared to how the rest of the NHL is performing. Out of 14 games, the Stars have lost just three in regulation and that is something I never would have imagined before the season began.
When you look at the record and the standings, you have to feel good about where this team stands now and the position they are in moving forward. This is certainly a better start than we saw last season. But the team's inconsistent play, lack of execution for extending periods of time and what seems like a general lack of chemistry has raised some concerns.
The Stars certainly have plenty of room to improve, but overall you have to be pleased with how the season has started based on all of the factors added together: new general manager, new coaches, new system and injuries once again biting the team.
Brandon B. will have a much more detailed statistical analysis of October later today, but lets run down the various aspects of the Dallas Stars and give our own grades on how we think they did.
This is where we have perhaps seen the biggest change from last season to now. The Stars have become offensively dangerous on the ice, showing the ability to score at anytime from any point in the ice. Sure, there have been some hiccups, every team has them, but if the Stars go down by one or two goals you get the feeling they are still very much in the game. This wasn't the case in past seasons. The Stars have scored 32 goals at even strength, good for 2nd in the NHL.
Unfortunately, the Stars have allowed 23 goals as well which is certainly more middle of the pack (18th). However, a plus-7 at even strength is nothing to be ashamed of.
This is where we start to see the inconsistencies show. The Stars are just 18th in the NHL with power play percentage of 17.7%. Having Brad Richards back on the point has helped improve this unit from last season, but the subsequent loss of Mike Modano has hurt. The Stars have shown a much higher willingness to shoot the puck on net, compared to seasons past when they would wait, wait, wait for that perfect pass to appear. The lack of a right handed shot down low has hurt at times, the importance of which has been seen by Stephane Robidas' power play goal against Florida.
To say that the Stars have drastically improved their penalty kill as the season has progress and yet they still sit 25th in the NHL shows just how bad this unit was to start the season. There was a point in early October where every time the Stars went on the penalty kill you knew a goal would be soon to follow.
Currently the Stars sit at 74.5% after allowing 12 power play goals so far this season. The good news: the Stars have gone shorthanded just 47 times this season, which is 7th least in the NHL.
The emergence of the Brad Richards line, with James Neal and Loui Eriksson has certainly been the brightest spot in the early goings. Richards leads the team in points and assists and James Neal has become one the more explosive forwards in the NHL. Jamie Benn has also proven that he was worthy of the NHL spot he was awarded at the end of training camp although he's regressed just a bit lately, which is to be expected.
The carousel on the third and fourth lines hasn't helped with chemistry much, although Tom Wandell has entrenched himself as a playmaking center on an energy line with Sutherby and Brunnstrom.
However, the Stars have suffered a lack of chemistry up and down the forward lines and have issues with sustained execution in transition as well as pressure in the offensive zone. The Stars are going to be juggling lines a bit when Modano and Lehtinen return; we shall what happens from there.
Without a doubt the biggest question mark for the Stars headed into the season, and so far this unit is still the team's weakest point. While Karlis Skastins has done a decent job and his shot blocking ability has been something to behold, he was not the big defensive addition the Stars needed in the offseason. The defensemen have shown a better ability to jump in on offense and get chances from the back side of the play, we've seen these players have significant issues at times clearing the puck cleanly and pushing the play up ice in transition.
Stephane Robidas is one hell of a player and is well deserving of his contract extension, but he is not the No. 1 guys this team needs. There is no vocal leader on the blue line the Stars have trouble establishing physical dominance in front of the net.
This could all just be a product of the players adjusting to the system, since the defensemen have had to undergo the biggest change under Charlie Huddy and Marc Crawford. They haven't been overtly bad, but there is certainly room for drastic improvement.
Some were curious how Marty Turco would respond to having a backup the caliber of Alex Auld, and after a shaky start he's come on and looked as confident and athletic as ever. He's moving the puck well, seeing the shots into his body and challenging shooters. The extra work with new coach Mike Valley, as well as the push from behind by Auld, have factored into Turco playing the best he has in a few years. His 2.26 goals-against average is 7th in the NHL, while his .917 save percentage is 10th; overall a much, much better improvement than last season.
Auld had a few great starts then has regressed a bit, but was more the victim of poor defense than an actual drop in play. He's a solid goaltender that won't be flashy, and it's something the Stars haven't had since trading away Mike Smith. There is a noticeable difference when he's on the ice however, as the defense has had trouble adjusting to how he handles the puck compared to Turco.