Obviously, the early struggles of the Stars this season were due in part to the absence of Kari Lehtonen, who missed five full games early on.
But a bigger worry for Lindy Ruff and his assistants was how to keep whoever was in net for the Stars from being bombarded on a consistent basis by opposing teams. The Stars defense was hemorrhaging shots, scoring chances, and attempted shots at an alarming rate.
And when it came to identifying whipping boys on the blue line, Alex Goligoski and newly acquired Sergei Gonchar were far and away the favorites of the Stars fanbase.
And for good reason, as the table below suggests:
For the record, any situation where the game is tied or either team has a one goal lead is what I consider a "close" situation. Other sites only take into account one goal situations in the first or second periods.
I'm sure if you used the latter standard for "close", the numbers would look pretty similar.
But I digress.
The point is despite the fact both defensemen's games have been predicated on offense their entire careers, they weren't clicking offensively. And defensively, they were downright dreadful.
And when it comes to Goligoski's game, the inevitable comparisons to the Neal trade come about anytime he struggles, in spite of the GM change seven months ago.
When the change was made, the dividends didn't quite pay off for Goligoski. While Gonchar posted a +3 Fenwick/ +9 Corsi in his first game apart, Goligoski put up an ugly -5 Fenwick / -8 Corsi against Anaheim. Then he was benched against the Sharks.
Since then, he's turned things completely around.
Yes, that's a difference of almost 140 points on overall Fenwick and 120 on Fenwick Close for Goligoski. And to be sure, Gonchar has also seen his possession numbers go up, but not quite as much.
With Gonchar, the highest Positive Fenwick Events per 60 rating that Goligoski achieved was 46.104. Ironically that occurred in the Los Angeles game were Gonchar was so dreadful in the defensive end of the ice that he posted the worst Negative Fenwick Events per 60 rating during his time with Goose, a 63.797.
Goligoski has bested that 46.104 rating in five of his 15 games since then with his highest rating of the season coming against the New York Rangers on Thursday night (79.1878).
He also posted his highest number of Positive Fenwick Events Thursday with 26. With Gonchar, his highest mark was 14 against Washington in the second game of the season. Since the split, he's bested that 14 event mark 5 times.
All that having been said, the breakup hasn't exactly allowed either player to become unshackled in terms of getting on the scoresheet. Together, neither player found the score sheet at Even Strength with Gonchar's assist in the third game of the season at Winnipeg on a Power Play goal by Alex Chiasson 9:32 into the game registering as the only point of any kind that either player posted.
Since the breakup, Gonchar is still looking for his second point of the season while Goligoski has a goal and four assists for five points at even strength. On the power play, Goligoski just has one goal, which was scored up in Buffalo last month.
I'll admit I'd like to see the uptick in possession stats for Goligoski to result in a little more offense. But two goals and four assists is a start considering how dry the well was to begin the season.
And circling back to the point I made at the beginning of this post, at the time of the breakup, the Stars were allowing 30.411 even strength shots against / 60. That number has dropped to 25.4302. On overall shots, the split is 40.1096 / 33.2083.
And on the final point I'd like to hammer home, Stars' opponents were able to either hit or exceed the 70 shot attempt mark against (Goals Against + Shots Against + Opp Missed Shots + Opp Shots Blocked) in three of the seven games Goligoski and Gonchar spent together. Since the breakup, only three opponents have been able to hit the 70 shot attempt mark against (Anaheim, Winnipeg, and Vancouver).
The breakup itself didn't magically allow the entire team to seal the leaks. Nor is it a magic bullet solution to all the Stars woes. But it does represent a microcosm of sorts this season for the Stars.
And for Alex Goligoski, it has allowed him to find his game, again.