If you've lived in Texas long enough you know the insufferable heat and drought that linger come July and August. It is a long, grueling, miserable two months, where, if you stand outside long enough, you probably feel like you might actually suffocate. I think this perfectly encapsulates the recent offensive struggles plaguing the Dallas Stars.
It has been an insufferable offensive drought for the Stars and their fans. The high that was the 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, to extend a win streak to five games, has turned into a miserable low, starting with the 6-0 loss to Vancouver. Since that loss way back on February 11th, the Stars have scored only twenty-five goals in fourteen contests, and sport a record of 5-7-2. In the nine games leading up to the Vancouver game, the club had scored thirty-four goals, and had a record of 7-2-0.
As the goals have dried up, so have the wins.
To dig deeper on how bad this recent bit of the schedule has been for the club, the Stars before this stretch had been shutout three times in fifty-six tilts, compared to three times in the last fourteen games. The Stars have fallen to 17th in league scoring, and the power play now sits at 20th, even though that area is starting to tick up lately.
To make matters worse, the Stars have scored over three goals three times, once in regulation during this drought, and the other two requiring overtime to hit the mark. This all is good for a dubious 1.78 goals per game average during this stretch of play, compared to a 3.77 goals per game on average in the nine games leading up to the drought.
If you had walked up to me in a bar on February 10th and said, “friend, the Dallas Stars will average less than two goals a game for the next month and change,” I would have promptly finished my drink, paid for yours, and laughed my way out the door.
Oh what a terrible nightmare it has been.
More aggravating for the Stars is their record against non-playoff teams during this time. Back in February, the team was feasting on teams outside of the top eight in the two conferences. Crushing the Florida Panthers 6-1, the Buffalo Sabers 7-1, Arizona Coyotes 4-1, Minnesota Wild 6-1, and New York Rangers 2-1, good for a 6-0-0 record at the time (it is worth noting that Minnesota is back in the picture and Florida is climbing when you look at the standings today).
All represented resounding victories from a well oiled machine that was the Dallas Stars. Since then, the team is 4-3-1, with losses to Vancouver (terrible), Ottawa (awful), and Montreal (terribly injured but still bad). All representing six points lost by the Stars, in a trend that could prove fatal in the coming weeks.
To cap off the the ugly before we get to the solution, the Stars actually went through a stretch of play that saw them go twelve periods without a 5v5 goal, a streak that ended with Radek Faksa deflecting a puck in against the Canadiens. Yikes.
Although this article has quite a somber, depressing tone to it, the Stars still have time to turn it around. The Stars have shown flashes of the dangerous offense that fans are accustomed to seeing in Big D. The offense really comes to life and produces when there are bodies in front of the net. Far too often the Stars have appeared late in getting bodies to the blue paint to either screen the goaltender or bang around a loose puck. It was even on display Tuesday night in Quebec in the final seconds of the game, when Stars players (with the exception of Faksa) were all on the outside of the rink with the puck loose.
That’s not a formula for scoring goals in this league.
Take a peek back at the four goals the Stars have scored in the last two games against Anaheim and Montreal. The Devin Shore powerplay goal was a reward for bringing bodies to the front of the net. The Jamie Benn game winner on Friday night was a picture perfect example of good things happening when bodies get to the net. Radek Faksa’s and Jamie Benn’s goals Tuesday night were both a product of getting bodies to the front of the net.
Are you beginning to see a theme here?
It is extremely hard to score goals in the National Hockey League. Which is why I am writing about hockey and not playing it on the world’s biggest stage. However, at every level of the game, from the time you are in mites to college, it is drilled into players to “crash the net.” Good things happen when you crash the net, you score goals, and everyone likes to score goals.
Hitchcock preaches this same timeless lesson with his club in Dallas: be hard on the puck and crash the net. The Stars in the last fourteen games have struggled to consistently do either of those things. Not withstanding the goal by Radulov against St.Louis to force overtime was the product of being hard on the puck and crashing the net. The Stars have simply stopped going to the hard areas of the ice, and are being crushed offensively for it.
This is all quite shameful when you take into account how well the Stars defense has been playing. Since the beginning of the drought, the team is still top five in goals against and is sporting a 2.33 goals against average (when you factor out the blow out losses to San Jose and Vancouver) and has two shutout victories against Los Angeles and Calgary.
However, the backend has been asked to play perfectly too much lately and they cracked in a big way against Montreal, giving up three power play goals for the first time in 28 games (including the Stars’ first 5-on-3 powerplay goal against of the season). In order to win lately, the Stars are having to play near-perfect defensive hockey and even that isn't enough on most nights now. Couple the goal scoring outage with the absurd amount of penalties that the team is taking right now, and the combination is proving fatal.
The Stars do have time to turn it around and get the ship back on the proper heading. With twelve games remaining and the Stars still holding a tie with the Avalanche for the first Wild Card position with 82 points, Dallas still controls their own destiny today. The team simply has to win enough games over this last twelve to get into the playoffs.
If they miss the dance, it will be nothing short of a failure, a collapse that rests solely on the shoulders of the offense. The Stars must simplify their game to include a pack mentality at the front of the net, a continuation of good things on defense, and steady goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and Ben Bishop.
The road will not be easy — literally, with eight games on the road against quality opponents — but the Stars have the talent and depth to pull themselves into the post season. If anything, this drought in offense has allowed fans and writers to look at a team that is going through obvious ebbs and flows in their season. A young team that has shown marked improvement over a year ago, but still seems just a step away from really competing with the league’s elite.
However, the tools are there for the offense to start cranking again, and when it does the Stars will be in a good spot. Plus, as we Texans know all too well, in those long summer months, when it finally rains, it pours.