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The New Dallas Stars Are Vanquishing Old Defensive Demons

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The Stars have won three games in a row, but the underlying numbers are even more encouraging

NHL: Dallas Stars at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

First, the numbers: The Stars are officially on a winning streak, having won three games in a row. Two of those games were against the winless Arizona Coyotes, but then, that’s almost more of an accomplishment for the Stars, given their propensity (that I’m sure every fan everywhere feels their own team to have) to drop trap games.

Last night, the Stars did enough to win on the road, enough to earn a winning record, which you really need to have early in this league. The streak is impressive, of course: the Stars of last year didn’t even win two in a row until games 14-15 (on Nov. 10th-11th); then the Stars promptly went another 20 games without winning two in a row, finally beating LA, Arizona and Colorado on either side of Christmas to put together their only three-game winning streak of the season. (“Playing the Avs and Coyotes: good for what ails you, sometimes.”)

But you probably know some of this already. What’s more impressive is how the Stars have been going about their business. After some early scoring struggles, the Stars have averaged 3.67 goals per game over their last three games. This year, the Stars are 4-0 when they score at least three goals. Last year, they dropped two of their first three games when they notched three goals, including that absurd 6-5 defeat to (of course) Colorado right off the bat.

In fact, I’ve been wondering if the Stars’ “scoring struggles” aren’t more magnified because of how good Dallas has been. It’s one thing to bemoan scoring when you’re getting thumped every night, but when you have the puck as much as Dallas does, it gets really frustrating not to get rewarded. It also gets very satisfying when the puck does finally start going in, as we have seen.

Certainly the Stars need more depth scoring (they’re 20th in the NHL in goals per game), and David surely isn’t the only one holding up signs on streetcorners warning about the Stars’ dearth of production from the wings. You’d like to see Devin Shore and Antoine Roussel chipping in a bit more, and if Brett Ritchie can’t start finding his game soon, that’s going to be concerning. But I guess what I keep coming back to is the fact that these are issues that good teams often have. It’s what the Penguins needed so badly (and got) behind their top two lines, and it’s what Chicago might not have (unless some rando named, like, Blake Crumpling scores 25 goals for them and gets traded for Artemi Panarin next summer).

It’s still a concern, yes. And it’s jarring not to see the Stars scoring (and allowing) a fair amount of goals despite showing their skill. But when the defensive structure has been as outstanding as the Stars’ has been, you have time and space to tinker with your depth until you find the right mix, if it’s there to be found.

The Stars are 1st in the entire whole NHL in shots on goal allowed per game, both shots on goal and attempted. They are 5th in the NHL in shots-for per game. These are, even without the context you need to really see what the numbers are telling you, very good things. Ben Bishop has been great to start the year, and the defense has improved in front of him. Jamie Benn, John Klingberg and Tyler Seguin already look worlds better than they did to start last year (remember kids, it’s nice to be healthy, and it’s healthy to be nice), and the power play and penalty kill are rocking and rolling.

The Stars have the 3rd best power play and the 3rd-best penalty kill in the league. This is far more than even most optimists predicted to start the season. Every number comes with caveats in October, of course, but the points are only every points. After some bad luck and missed chances to start the season, the Stars have recently reaped some well-deserved rewards. They are 2nd in the NHL in XGF%, at about 60%. When your even-strength play indicates that you should be outscoring teams at a 3:2 ratio, and when your special teams are top-three on both sides of things, it’s understandable that you are finding reasons to hope again.

The Dallas Stars find themselves at 4-3-0 on October 20th. The Stars of last year did not win their 4th game until November 3rd. These Stars are in a decent spot, and all signs suggest that they can keep winning. They are, for all intents and purposes, the best defensive team in the league. They might have the best overall special teams in the league. After last year, it’s impossible to overstate how remarkable that is, but my goodness, it’s fun to try.