Though certain other, blue-painted areas get most of the headlines, the Dallas Stars entered into last offseason with major questions on both the penalty kill and power play. Last season, as the Go-Go Stars turned into the Oh, No Stars, their generous PK and anemic power play were major culprits. Numbers-wise, Dallas clocked in at 20th in the league on the PP (17.9%) and dead last on the PK (73.9%). Those numbers simply were not good enough. They could not keep the Stars in the West’s upper echelon, or even in the playoffs at all.
One look at the Stars’ offseason business confirms the team felt the same way. At the top of the marquee, players like Ben Bishop and Marc Methot will be expected to buoy the PK while Alex Radulov and (hopefully) Julius Honka will be charged with adding depth and danger to the power play. How far the Stars go will likely hinge on how well these problems have been addressed.
So have they been addressed?
The Dallas Stars are five games into their pre-season schedule. While it’s borderline absurd to draw serious conclusions based on pre-season results, it is fair to at least draw a few general conclusions. Today, we’ll look at the penalty kill.
Knock wood, but through five games the Dallas Stars’ penalty kill is a remarkably improved unit. As in 31-for-35, 88.6% improved. To give a little context, the Boston Bruins led the entire NHL last season at 85.7%. After surrendering a pair of goals in games 1 and 2, the Stars have kept three clean sheets in a row. I don’t know that this means it’s 1999 all over again, but what if the Stars can climb back into the top half of the league? It’s hard to look at this early performance as anything other than encouraging.
The downside, if I’m picking nits, is the total number of opportunities. Only four teams have sent opponents onto the power play more than the Stars’ (35 short-handed opportunities), and it’s not a product of one bad game. Even if we throw out the 11 power plays they handed out in the opener against St. Louis, they’ve still surrendered 9 (Colorado), 7 (St. Louis again), 3 (Colorado), and 5 (Minnesota) opportunities. The Blues and Wild are likely quite good, but 7 penalties against the Avs?
That’s troubling volume, no matter how much the overall unit has improved. Even if Bishop and Methot are the best possible versions of themselves, even if the Stars don’t surrender a ton of goals, PK minutes are minutes the Stars cannot use to feed the offense. Excessive time on the kill keeps Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza on the bench. Those minutes burn up valuable energy for Jamie Benn, and let opponents relax.
From a TOI perspective, the Stars’ non-goaltending leaderboard looks like this:
1 - Marc Methot – 5:30 SH TOI
2 - Radek Faksa – 4:36 SH TOI
3 - Esa Lindell – 4:36 SH TOI
Seeing new boy Marc Method (5:30) atop the early Ice Time list makes sense. For his career, the veteran free agent has averaged 2:06 per game short-handed. Accounting for pre-season officiating, he seems on track to at least match those totals. Which is a good thing. Methot is 32 years old, has played in 579 NHL games, stands 6’3” and weighs 227 lbs, that’s a PK profile right out of central casting.
Radek Faksa also makes sense from a reputation standpoint. The young pivot is viewed as a relentless, responsible player well-suited to the demands of a modern NHL PK. He averaged 1:57 last season, and while the unit itself was bad, it is not unreasonable to think he might not have been the problem. There’s also the matter of Dallas’ overall depth at center. In a world where coach Ken Hitchcock wants to ensure his young player gets plenty of opportunities, finding a niche for Faksa on special teams could offset limited minutes (or time on the wing) at even strength.
The name that got my attention was Esa Lindell, who has played 4:36 so far. Sure, he played a lot on the PK last season (2:01), but by the end of the year nobody seemed sure about the young defender. Had he played well, or had he played with John Klingberg? He is certainly a guy the Stars want to develop, it’s just odd seeing him clock in above guys like Stephen Johns, Dan Hamhuis, and even Jamie Oleksiak.
As the Stars continue to integrate roster regulars, the list above might change. It could also not change. Methot, Faksa, and even Lindell entered the offseason as “regulars.” Perhaps what we’re seeing is the coaching staff settling on their work-horse options. Time will tell.