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Defending Big D - The Case for the Defense As-Is

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A lot of ink has been spilled debating Dallas’ recent roster decisions, in particular on the backline. In light of a five-game winning streak, why not take a moment to focus on what is working.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Chicago Blackhawks
This is what a #1 Defender looks like
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Think of this article as dinner with the extended family. Yes, there is a big, Julius Honka-shaped elephant in the room (or not in the room, technically, which is the problem). It would be foolish to pretend otherwise, but there can only be so many Honka-centric views on the Stars defense. So just this one time let’s have a nice conversation about the state of the Stars that does not devolve into a screaming match about the treatment of a certain defender who will, from this point on, remain nameless.

I get it, okay?

Thing is, the Stars are playing well right now. Sunday night’s victory in Colorado – and boy howdy I have not been able to write that sentence nearly enough – was the squad’s fifth on the bounce. They’re now 7-2-1 in their last ten, sixth in the Western Conference, and just five points behind the Conference and Division-leading Winnipeg Jets. If the season ended today, blah blah blah it’s December, but they picked up two points on the Blackhawks over the weekend. They also took care of business on a back-to-back. Good things are happening.

Believe it or not, defense is a big part of the equation. The Dallas Stars are now a top ten defense in almost every meaningful metric. They’re eight in the league with 2.78 goals against per game, eleventh if we look at raw GA totals (75), third on the penalty kill at 84.7%, and first, as in top of the heap, with a stingy 29.3 shots against per game. The under-the-hood stuff is also positive. Dallas is sixth in the league in shot attempts against (1114), and before you worry too much about luck, Dallas’ PDO (99.8) does not portend regression.

Pardon the barrage of numbers, but when was the last time any Stars defense was doing this much good?

There’s balance, too, from a usage perspective. John Klingberg paces the group with 23:30 ATOI, next comes Esa Lindell (21:39), but the real story is the fact the Stars are getting quality minutes throughout the group. Dan Hamhuis (19:47), Greg Pateryn (18:46), and Stephen Johns (17:39) are in stalwart territory. Even Jamie Oleksiak (15:09) is putting in a reliable shift.

In that time, the Stars D is driving positive possession. Corsi puts five of the Stars’ primary defenders above break-even. Lindell leads the pack with a 52.6% CF (EV), followed by Johns (52%), Klingberg (51.6%), Hamhuis (51.1%), and Greg Pateryn (50.3%). Even the pair below Marc Methot (47.1%) and Jamie Oleksiak (47.8%) are close enough to not be total killers. Those are fine numbers. You can win with that group, as the Stars are clearly proving.

Offensively, the back-end is doing good business for Big D. John Klingberg leads the entire NHL in defensive scoring (4 G / 20 A / 24 P) and is tied for tenth in power play points (8). Esa Lindell (4 G / 10 P), Dan Hamhuis (6 A / 7 P), and Stephen Johns (5 P) have also managed regular contributions to the cause.

At some point, things will get dicey again. Methot’s inevitable return to the lineup will send another body to the press box. Dallas still has not solved their roster congestion issues, but that’s a tomorrow problem. For now, fans can focus on wins and points and a little bit of stability.

Okay, I lied, I cannot help myself. Julius Honka leads all Stars with a 57.3% CF (ev).