The Dallas Stars have been led in scoring on defense by Stephane Robidas and Matt Niskanen the last four seasons since Sergei Zubov's decline and departure. What has been the lowest paid blue in the conference in recent years has consistently delivered the lowest offensive totals from defensemen. With the arrivals of Sheldon Souray and Alex Goligoski, this is turning around, and (perhaps coincidentally) so too are the fortunes of the Stars.
This off-season I mused what Joe Nieuwendyk's partially reconstructed blue line could mean for an overworked, under-appreciated Stephane Robidas...
"Alex Goligoski showed what he could contribute last year down the stretch, playing gargantuan minutes in all situations while contributing much more than Robidas on offense," I wrote on September 4th here. "If they get a rejuvenated Sheldon Soruay like they hope, Grossman can stay healthy, and Trevor Daley has another season like last year, then Robidas will have a cast of characters around him helping to pull the proverbial wagon with equal strength and competency. Partners, they will be, rather than the students he has had in previous seasons."
Though the season is only about six weeks old, that prognostication seems to be holding fairly true. The team's defensive improvement has come largely through scheme but personnel has certainly played it's role quite well. Beyond GAA and GA/G, the offensive improvement has been nothing short of a revelation so far in this young season.
Defensemen scoring through first 14 games this year vs first 14 games last year...
|Through 14 games||Goals||Primary Assists||Sec. Assists||Points|
28 points versus 21 might not seem like a huge margin but when you look at it more closely you see the involvement mirrors what the perception is: The Stars are getting many more important points from the blue line than they have been. 12 of their 21 points from the back end at this point last year were only secondary assists. The huge bulk of the increased production this season comes on goals and primary helpers.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying that this blue line is making it happen out there.
Much of this production is coming in the place where many thought the Dallas Stars would miss Brad Richards the most...
Continued after the jump
That's the power play, of course.
The Dallas Stars received seven total goals from defensemen on the power play last season. Seven. Brad Richards scored seven power plays goals alone. This season they're on pace to absolutely shatter that mark with five power play tallies already from Goligoski (1), Souray (2), Robidas (1) and Daley (1).
Five of their collective assists have also come on the power play totaling 10 of the 28 points. The group is contributing more at even strength and that says something for them moving forward, as Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas would probably tell you that they have more to give in that area.
Tossing scoring aside for a moment, let's take a look just at the rubber the Stars blue line is throwing at the opposing net. Last year the Stars' defensemen accounted for approximately 23.1% of the team's total SOG. This year they've gone up to 31.0%, though the season is young.
Stars defensemen have taken 119 shots this season already. That puts them on pace for 697 this year. Last year Stars defensemen took 524 shots on goal. That projects to a 33% in crease in total shots from blue-liners, though again, it is very early in the season and these numbers will change as things play out and injuries occur.
Still, it's yet another way Dallas is making up for the loss of Brad Richards and the shot happy James Neal.
In less than a season they went from having Brad Richards, Matt Niskanen, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas (and often times Jeff Woywitka as the season wore on) at the point on the man advantage to Alex Goligoski, Sheldon Souray, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas. That's an enormous talent upgrade and the cost of the contracts makes the production an absolute steal. It balances their approach, supplements a weak start by Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow, and makes Joe Nieuwendyk look like a pretty smart cookie.
Oh, and it also puts the Stars first in the NHL through 14 games while the same group helps Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft to a 2.36 GAA, good for 7th in the league. So let's not lose sight of the fact that they've been pretty darned good at the other end of the ice as well
All of this falls into the "Is it sustainable?" and "I don't know" categories this early in November, but the contrast with season's past is great, and it's a big reason why the Stars have piqued the curiosity of the Metroplex as of late. Keep bombing those pucks from the point, boys...