The Dallas Stars are losing games they are more than talented enough to win. That trend continued Saturday night as the Stars lost a two goal lead in the third period to the San Jose Sharks. I wrote this prior to that meeting:
What if the Stars, as presently constructed, just aren't that good? We don't want to think that. We shouldn't need to. They have copious amounts of talent. Maybe when the goaltending is no longer 7th worst at even strength in the league things will turn around. It can't hurt, but if the team defense, decision making, and awful transition play continues none of this will matter.
All three factors played a huge role in the loss. The Stars cratered in the third period, but the team defense, decision making, and transition plays were simply brutal in the first two periods. And the Stars appear to be acknowledging that this is a personnel issue. John Klingberg is on the way from Austin to save the day. He has a lot of work to do.
It is sometimes hard to see how certain aspects of the game are playing out when you aren't specifically looking for them. This is especially true of transition play. I watched the game again Sunday afternoon and identified about 20 plays in transition that the Stars either made more difficult than they needed to, or just times when poor decisions were made. Few of these are from the third period because after a certain point you get tired of looking at bad hockey. I did include some good though. There were a couple, though they were mostly by one player. These plays, all from one game and mostly from the first 40 minutes, illustrate the difficulties the Stars are currently having.
The Sharks Fourth Goal
We'll start in the third period because, why not? These are four frames that led up to the eventual winning goal. Links for larger images are available by clicking on the links under the section headline.
In image one Sergei Gonchar has full possession of the puck. He has a passing option available to him in Kevin Connauton, but he doesn't take it. Instead, he fires the puck up the boards. It hit the ref, but a Shark was in position either way. In the third image Gonchar once again has full control of the puck. This time he sends it over to Connauton. Connauton then fell down with an easy outlet available to Jason Spezza.
Bad luck? Sure somewhat, but most of the other examples aren't.
Erik Cole's Clever Exit
Erik Cole set up a neat zone exit. He recovered the puck deep in the Stars zone with Jordie Benn near him. Instead of just rimming the puck around the boards or giving Benn a suicide pass Cole remained poised with the puck.
Cole drew a forechecker to him while the other forechecker went after Benn. This opened up Alex Goligoski in the corner for a relatively pressure-free exit.
This was a pretty simple play, but this is the type of winning play the best teams in the league are able to pull off. The Stars problems lately have come from a lack of poise in their own end, and as a result of the five guys on ice not working together as a unit.
Passes To No One
One symptom of that problem is when defensemen make passes to no one in particular. Our first culprit is Jordie Benn. This was very early in the game. He has the chance for a quick dump off to Goligoski who could then skate into open ice. He also has a forward up the ice on the far wing who isn't looking back, and another forward a few feet up the boards past pressure.
Instead, he fires the puck across the ice to no one in particular and a turnover took place.
It kind of looks like he tried to pass to Goligoski, but if so it was an awful pass.
Connauton did it too. Instead of being patient with the puck or waiting for something to develop he simply fired the puck up the boards.
You may notice that there isn't a single Dallas Stars in the frame. This was never going to end well.
His partner in crime was Gonchar. He didn't have many options given that you can already see Antoine Roussel blowing out of the zone with the puck in deep.
The Stars are trying to exploit their speed advantage, but this is a low percentage play.
If this play does connect, lately it has been leading to congestion at the offensive blueline which defeats the purpose.
The Jordie Benn Variety Hour
There has been no bigger disappointment this season than the play of the elder Benn. He was a quality member of the blueline in the 2014 season, but his inability to get the puck out of his own end has been a significant liability.
In our first example our hero has the puck behind the net with two teammates coming back. He also has open space to his left with which he could make a play.
Instead Jordie fires the puck up the boards into coverage. This play isn't going to generate offense. It MIGHT get the puck out of the zone, but given how little pressure he was under there wasn't much need for relieving pressure.
In this example from early in the second period Jordie has a ton of time to make a play. He has one easy option available to him in Goligoski.
Once again the puck is fired up the boards and into coverage. It is guaranteed to get out of the zone, but what play is going to be made here? This pass was never going to lead to offense.
Here we have Jordie with the puck in full possession in his own end. He has a short passing option available right in front of him. He just needs to lead the forward a little into open space.
The puck ends up in Sharks hands after an unnecessary puck battle at center ice. The attack is once again going to come back into the Stars zone when they should have been going on the attack.
The play started with Jamie Benn picking up the puck at his own blue. He passed back to Jordie who proceeded to take it deep into his own end. Instead of making a play, in the third frame the Sharks forechecker has already knocked him off the puck with ease. The Sharks then quickly got the puck into the slot for a glorious chance off the stick of Joe Thornton.
This is too easy, and this is likely part of the motivation for calling up Klingberg. Poor decision making is killing the Stars in their own end.
Yet, somehow Jordie was +17 Corsi events in the game at even strength. I can't explain it. Cue the shirt:
Trevor Daley Beating His Head Against The Wall
Trevor Daley had a rough night. We'll start with a good exit.
Daley makes a simple pass up the ice to spring the Stars offense with speed. These simple options were available all night, but all too often the Stars refused to make the simple play.
There were other times where Daley was a bit too careless with the puck. Here we see him deep in his own end with little pressure firing the puck around the boards.
Ryan Garbutt is immediately met by a Shark who forces a turnover.
Daley got stretch pass happy in the game too. He started off the second period with three attempts at breakout passes that went nowhere.
Brenden Dillon is available away from pressure for a pass, but Daley fires it up into traffic anyway.
This stretch pass went absolutely nowhere. The problem is Daley has plenty of room to skate this puck out of the zone. There was no real reason to force a pass.
The Sharks easily accepted the pass at their own blueline then turned the attack back towards the Stars net.
This third example was from DEEP in the Stars defensive zone with an available passing option in the slot. Daley went for the home run pass instead.
The Sharks again easily accepted the puck at their own blueline.
These were ugly, and the Stars need Daley to be better if he's going to be playing in a significant defensive role. When he makes these decisions against the level of competition he's routinely seeing the results are not good.
Brenden Dillon Shining Bright
It isn't all bad. Dillon was -18 Corsi events at even strength, but when you watched him he didn't appear to be playing worse than normal. He was by far the Stars most effective defenseman in terms of moving the puck out of his own end.
In our first example Dillon takes the puck along the boards before sending it up to an open Vern Fiddler.
The puck bounced off of Fiddler, but the attempt here was for a simple play. We have some bad luck here, but the intent was good.
Here we have Dillon making a move up the ice with the puck.
A short chip up the ice springs a Stars breakout with plenty of space to operate.
Dillon attempted the stretch passes too, but not nearly as often as some of his teammates. The one true stretch pass Dillon attempted connected and covered 75% of the rink.
He beat the all of the Sharks with one pass by hitting Ales Hemsky.
In image one Spezza has the puck in deep with Hemsky in support. He passes quickly up to Hemsky who doesn't hesitate to dish the puck to Dillon as he is moving up the ice. Dillon is in a better position to pass the puck up the ice, and he does. Curtis McKenzie takes the puck at the Stars blue.
This rush ultimately didn't work, but these are the simple type of plays the Stars need to be making to get things turned around. Dillon got drilled in the Corsis, but he was making a lot of good plays with the puck. He plays the tough minutes, and I don't think it would take much time to build a case that he was a victim of circumstance.
The problem, as it has been all year, is turnovers. The problem with turnovers is twofold. Turnovers kill offensive opportunities and lead to offensive opportunities against. When you play the difficult minutes with teammates turning the puck over your numbers will inevitably end up awful. When you repeatedly give good opposing players the puck bad things are bound to happen.
There are several other examples, but the point is pretty obvious. The Stars have to make better decisions with the puck in their own end. They aren't a very good defensive team. The turnovers are forcing them to play defense more often than they would otherwise need. The goal is to limit the amount of time in your own end while maximizing the time in the offensive end. What the Stars are doing right now is doing the opposite. Until they start making better decisions this losing streak is likely to continue.