I don't have a fancy preamble, but I think there are three big things the Stars need in order to win Game 4. Also, they should score more goals than they allow. (Rats, I should have included more pictures for that one.)
The special-teams play has been, ah, "sub-optimal" so far, which you know. The Stars are getting outmuscled far too often, which you also know. There have been bad plays in the defensive zone, which commenter Dstars did a good job of breaking down in the Wednesday Links comments. You may already have formed your conclusions about what ails Dallas, and I'm not exactly here to shatter those conclusions. I'm just here to talk about hockey and maybe clarify a couple points along the way.
So, here are my Very Scientific Suggestions for Lindy Ruff. If anyone can distract him for a few minutes with one of those fun practical jokes he loves, maybe I'll just sneak on into the locker room myself, print out this post (in color!) and hand it out to the players. No, that would be a very bad idea.
1. Kari Lehtonen Needs to Goalie Like He Can Goalie
Look, this is what I'm saying:
Antti Niemi has been very bad at shots in close. How bad? Well, you either found him on the above graph right away because you knew where to look, or else he was the very last goalie you saw because you assumed he'd be with the big group. Antti Niemi has been saving 5v5 high-danger shots at a .667 rate, which is abjectly poor. Kari Lehtonen has been better (.800), but he's still lagging behind the top-tier goalies this postseason.
Of course, we all know it's more than just the goalies. It's Always More Than Just the Goalies (unless it's 2014-15, in which case...yeah, it was mostly the goalies). But the Stars have very little reason to trust Niemi thus far, and while Kari hasn't been a world-beater himself, Dallas needs as narrow a margin as possible between the sterling netminding Elliot is providing and what the Stars have in the crease. Now is the time for Super Kari to show up, just as he did late in Game 3 (and in Game 1, for that matter).
For the record, Dallas isn't allowing an enormously huge amount of dangerous chances, either. They've actually tightened things up a bit(!), but they're not creating nearly enough on offense, which is a change.
2. Dallas Needs Better Zone Exits from Their Defensemen
Here is another chart! This is how you know I am not making things up this time, either.
The whole interactive chart can be found here, and it is very cool. You should check it out!
Only thing I would add to these data is that Johns has seemed to be the carry-out-er of the Oduya/Johns pairing, so that might well be helping his numbers, as Oduya does more retrieval.
Okay, so here are some takeaways from this horribly small sample of numbers thus far:
-John Klingberg is good at defense. He might not be able to separate players from the puck too much (though his stick work is excellent), but he excels at finding a way to turn the puck back the other way with possession. This is one of the very most valuable skills there is, and it is another reason why Klingberg is amazing and has solved a lot of the Stars' blue line woes of years past.
-Alex Pietrangelo is very good at defense, but so is the rest of the Blues' top four. Dallas needs to exploit the third pairing whenever they can face them, but they also need to try new tactics in the offensive zone to see if they can prevent the Blues from turning the puck around as easily as they've done far.
-Jason Demers and Kris Russell are a third pairing right now, and playing like it. Do they know they are pending UFAs? You are both pending UFAs, Kris and Jason! You had best play better if you would like more money for buying neat things at Sharper Image, like those coin-sorting-into-roll machines.
-Does Jordie Benn (or even Nemeth?) fit into this picture anywhere? Demers and Jordie had good numbers last season, but that ship may well have sailed. Maybe Jordie's bigger body facilitates more puck retrieval, and maybe Demers' being the "big" body on his pairing with Russell really hurts their overall mobility, but that's pure guesswork. Either way, the Stars have to sharpen their system in its execution--or, I fear, its design.
3. Score Goals, More
This is not a very nuanced point, but it is crucial all the same. Dallas and St. Louis were actually similar teams when it came to expected goal production in the regular season, as you can see here. The Stars obviously scored more through 82, but the Blues know how to score, as their 11 goals in three games thus far in the series attests. In the playoffs, however, the 2014-15 Stars have returned with a vengeance:
Yes, we knew Dallas was leaky, but this shows just how much of an outlier they are among the remaining teams. As for what's going on with Washington, well, you can ask their goal-scorers, too.
By way of contrast, here are those same eight clubs in the regular season:
As you can see, Dallas has been a graph-stretching, high-event team all year long. The difference now, of course, is that the Stars have stopped scoring 3+ goals per game (and started allowing slightly more).
Solving Ken Hitchcock's team is going to be tough, but Dallas has drawn first blood in all three games so far. Unfortunately for Dallas, they've also immediately surrendered that lead in the last two games. For a team struggling to create chances, Dallas will need to make the most of their time early on, grab another lead, and start getting disciplined and forcing the Blues to change. That may seem like not the most probable thing in the world, but then again, Dallas scoring only six goals through three games is something I also would not have predicted, even against St. Louis. The playoffs can be surprising.