Three games. That's all the Dallas Stars have actually played, but it almost feels like an entire season, doesn't it? Those three games could not possibly have been any more different, nor could they be any more instructive. Sample size means we should probably stay away from the serious #fancystats, but there are a handful of numbers I found interesting. In honor of where we are in the season, I'll keep to groups of three. Each group explains, a little bit, what we've seen so far, and what we should keep our eyes on as we move forward.
1-1-1 / 3 pts / 8th
They'll matter more in a month, but those three numbers are the most important. Dallas' record, number of points, and position in the NHL's Western Conference. To me, they're good gut-check numbers. One good game, one terrible game, one game that bounced a bit between the two extremes. The takeaway here? Things could be much, much worse.
17 / 12 / -5
The number of penalties Dallas has taken, the number of penalties Dallas' opponents have taken, and their overall differential. On opening night, Dallas enjoyed more power play opportunities than the Chicago Blackhawks, but since then the pendulum has swung wildly in the other direction. The efforts of Dallas' penalty kill have been admirable, but every minute they have to do their job is a minute of severely enhanced risk for the Stars. More importantly, it's time on the bench for the strength of the Stars' team: it's offense.
4 / 3 / 1
The number of times Dallas has taken a lead this season, given up a lead this season, and reclaimed a lead this season. The first number is actually quite encouraging. Leads are good, that's how you win (analysis like that is why they pay me the big bucks!), and by that measure Dallas has been in position to win every time they've played. Unfortunately, those same Stars have gone on to surrender a lead in every single game they've played, and only once - during last night's tilt in Columbus - have they been able to make a comeback that has resulted in victory.
+9 / -6 / -10
Which brings us to Dallas' shot differential in the first, second, and third period, respectively. After opening the season with two dominant periods of hockey against the Blackhawks, the Stars failed to outshoot Nashville, and fought Columbus to a draw. What's particularly galling, to me, is the way Dallas has seemed to fade as games wore on, especially against Nashville and Chicago. Is the drop off a lingering effect of the illness issues Dallas carried through the preseason, is it a conditioning issue, or is the reality of Lindy Ruff's pace-based attack that the team simply will not be able to press for a full 60 minutes? Whatever the reason, it needs to get fixed for Dallas to make any noise in a hyper-competitive conference.
0:00 / 11:10 / 12:10
Okay, the first one is admittedly mean, but those numbers are Erik Cole's total time on ice so far this season. Cole, if you remember, received glowing reviews coming out of the preseason, and was expected to help power Dallas' new two-headed monster of offense. Things have not gone according to plan. Instead, Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky have spent just as much time with Patrick Eaves along for the ride. Not by coincidence, the unit has yet to score at even strength.
10:53 / 14:32 / 0:00
Sticking with the theme, those are Valeri Nichushkin's minutes. Blame illness and injury this time. The young Russian has been ravaged by both, and clearly not himself thus far this season. His ineffectiveness has deprived Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin of their expected wingman, and forced Coach Ruff to juggle both of his scoring lines. The fact his hip complaint has yet to be officially diagnosed is of serious concern to Stars fans, and makes it absolutely critical someone else step up offensively. We spent all summer talking about Dallas' dangerous over-reliance on their first line, and GM Jim Nill went out into the market aggressively to try and fix the problem. Early returns have been long on promise, but so far woefully short of results.
3 / 8 / 10
Combined shot totals, by game, for Seguin and Benn. A.K.A. the "just relax" statistic. Thankfully, the duo dropped the hammer on poor Columbus, which makes this point a bit easier to get across. Dallas' dynamic duo is getting theirs, and as last night proved, the goals will inevitably follow. Now if the rest of the team could just follow along, we'd be in business.