The lack of depth scoring is going to become a fatal flaw on the road if this Ottawa Senators / New Jersey Devils road swing is anything to go by. Yes, here we go again with the depth scoring narrative and no, all goals are not created equally (technically).
When it is said that all goals are not created equally, it is easy to shout that down and tag it as nonsensical. Understood, no hard feelings. However, the point needs to be argued because, well, it is true. It was true last season. And it looks true once again to start this season.
The Dallas Stars have no problem scoring goals at home (such as the 5-3 win against the Anaheim Ducks). That makes perfect sense because, in the NHL, the game is rigged towards the home team. The home side can make last-minute changes (matchups), they have the advantage on the face-off dot, they didn’t travel to the game farther than their own driveways to the barn, and, again, they are able to control the matchups in the game.
The Stars should and could win at home being led exclusively (to a point) by Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, John Klingberg, along with quality defense and goaltending.
Which brings us to the heart of the problem: The Stars cannot expect to win on the road like they win at home.
There, I said it.
The Stars are going to require depth scoring to have a chance to win road games this season. It just has to happen and if it doesn’t happen, the Stars need to make a trade or an offer sheet (hello, William Nylander) or they are not going to win very many tilts away from the AAC.
This is the hard truth that is staring the Dallas Stars in the face in the first month of the 2018-19 season.
Dallas discovered on October 15th against the Ottawa Senators what life is going to be like if the middle and bottom of the lineup cannot produce a goal on a regular basis. John Klingberg opened the scoring on the power play, but the top end players simply didn’t have the goals in them for the rest of the night. The Stars need their depth to show up and contribute anything to the effort, especially when the top line of Benn-Seguin-Radulov isn’t producing a bevy of goals. Their depth didn’t produce and the Stars lost 4-1 against a team that they should have skated away from with two points in their pocket.
This could become a fatal trend for the team going forward if something, anything, doesn’t change starting soon. It’s evident to everyone that this is the roster for the moment, and you have to play with the cards you’re dealt. The Stars have an ace or maybe two in their deck, but they need more to win the hand. So let’s pick a card — I mean, a depth scorer — and work this out.
The Stars don’t need Jason Spezza to score 30 goals like he did in 2015-16, although that would be magical and this piece will be rendered unnecessary if he did. However, Spezza isn’t that player anymore and that’s OK folks! Spezza can still be a very productive player this season for the Stars in other critical areas, like assists. The Stars would benefit from Spezza cashing in on 15-18 goals this season, but they would benefit more from a 40-45 assist campaign by the center. This would carve out a perfect niche for Spezza in that he already plays a game that is conducive to this kind of expectation.
This would also demonstrate that a still good, crafty player is using a skill that never really goes away, and can get better with age: vision. Spezza has fantastic on-ice vision and he can still whip passes to the tape. His pass to Klingberg in Ottawa was awesome and encouraging. If he can harness and embrace this part of the game, more players down the lineup will benefit and the Stars will benefit.
(*note: Spezza looked dangerous all night in New Jersey, just missing on a break away. A very good sign if that continues - minus the whole missing the net thing.)
Mattias Janmark is by far one of the most encouraging players on the roster outside of the big three forwards. He is fast, he is relentless on the puck, he isn’t afraid to shoot, and he skates with his head up. Janmark should be a very good player for the Stars in the years to come.
The Stars need him to be.
Last season Janmark recorded 19 goals, 15 assists, for 34 points. Not a bad year considering he missed the entirety of the 2016-17 season with a career-threatening knee injury. If bets are being placed, Janmark is due for a better season in 2018-19 and should score 20 goals or more. That is the hope, that should be the expectation, and that needs to be the case if the Stars hope to make the post season. So far, Janmark isn’t off to a scorching start, but neither is anyone else not named Seguin, Benn, Radulov, and Klingberg. That will change and it is my belief that Janmark is not the forward fans should be worried about.
His production could be tied to Jason Spezza. In a way, Spezza is the perfect center for Janmark in that he will always be in the right place and Spezza is a gifted passer. Spezza would also benefit from a winger who can skate, and Janmark checks that box. Look for those two to have a hand in each other’s production in 2018-19.
Radek Faksa had a good year in 2017-18, taking a critical step in his development as a young player in the league. There is so much that is encouraging there for Faksa. He is skilled, gritty, hard on the puck and the forecheck, and he has a nose for the net. He is also becoming known as one of the best shut down centers in the Western Conference. He’s great.
He’s also a player who, if there is such a thing, is a perfect road player.
Faksa recorded 17 goals a year ago and has increased his goal total in each season in the league. That is an encouraging stat for Stars fans, and he does a fair amount of damage on the road. His hat trick against the Vegas Golden Knights in Vegas is a good point of evidence to back that up. The Stars need Faksa to keep taking positive steps forward on the offensive side of the puck, especially since his defensive side is pretty much rounded out.
If the Stars do make the playoffs and start producing wins away from home, Radek Faksa will absolutely need to be a focal point.
This piece is being written with the full knowledge that this is only a six game, two-games-on-the-road sample size from the Dallas Stars. However, sports are all about trends and if the Stars keep relying on the big trio at home and on the road, this team is going to struggle more often than not. As stated earlier, the concern is not as much at home because the Stars can conceivably control the pace of the game. This is a road problem.
NHL coaches are very good at what they do. They also employ assistants and video coaches who specialize in taking away the advantage from the teams they play against. This is magnified when the Stars roll into an opposition’s building, where the home team is comfortable and can fully implement their style of play. This is where you cannot rely on the big guns, and role players like Spezza, Janmark, Faksa and their linemates, need to step up and carry the load. These players are the straws that stir the drinks on their lines, and if they produce, the top players will have more space in which to work and produce themselves.
Everything is related in hockey in one way or another. The two losses the Stars experienced in Ottawa and New Jersey are the result of a lack of offense. The Stars need to spark the rest of the lineup, or things will become quite difficult down the road.