Everything stinks. The Dallas Stars dropped into a hole early against the Boston Bruins and never recovered. Then they blew a third period lead against the St. Louis Blues. And then yesterday they took a million penalties in a loss to the Detroit Manthas.
There’s no real way to sugarcoat this — the Stars are 0-3-0 for the first time since moving to Texas. It’s not hard to look at this team and identify some major problems that need to change. But does that mean fans should start bracing themselves for yet another playoff miss? Or should we all calm down and try to not overreact?
Let’s look at a few areas of concern and figure out whether or not they’re cause for worry.
The Goaltending Sucks Again
It’s time to panic because... Everyone expected the Stars’ goaltending to regress this season — well, mostly everyone — but this has been just an awful start. Ben Bishop sits at a .900 SV% after letting in the first two shots against Boston and the first against St. Louis. Anton Khudobin looked like a breath of fresh air last night, but ended up ceding four goals to Anthony Mantha and the Detroit Red Wings.
What makes it worse is that many of these goals could be considered “soft,” especially in Bishop’s case. According to Corsica Hockey, both players’ actual save percentage is more than 3% lower than their expected save percentage (xSV%). Both players also have a negative goals saved above average (GSAA). Bishop has the worse GSAA (-1.36), while Khudobin has the worse SV% (.879) and xSV% (91.68).
Last season, the Stars made the playoffs in part due to strong defense, but mainly due to incredible goaltending by both Bishop and Khudobin, the former of which ended up 2nd in Vezina voting. If neither goaltender can step up their game, things don’t look good for Dallas.
However... Which is more likely — both members of one of the NHL’s best goaltending tandems last year fell off the proverbial cliff this offseason, or they’re just having bad starts to the season? People love to say that goaltedning is “voodoo” and completely unpredictable, but that’s usually because it’s a position that’s hard to understand — goalies don’t just change into worse/better players overnight.
Remember, Khudobin also had a rough start to the 2018-19 season — he gave up three goals in each of first two starts, good for a .898 SV% in that span. In contrast, Bishop only let in a single goal over his first two games, but then let in nine(!) over the next two, posting a .827 SV%. But those performances didn’t define the season for either goaltender — Khudobin finished the year with a .923%, and Bishop a .934%.
So yes, the goaltending has been rather poor thus far. But both Bishop and Khudobin are still good goaltenders, and should prove that over the next several games.
The Top Forwards Are M.I.A
The sky is falling because... Bishop and Khudobin aren’t the only ones struggling early — the Top 6 has been practically invisible. Joe Pavelski and Tyler Seguin have a single point each. Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov have none, and the latter has already taken three (!) minor penalties in as many games. The only forwards with multiple points are Roope Hintz and *checks notes* Mattias Janmark, who have three apiece.
Sure, it’s inevitable that the forwards will find their groove and bounce back, just like the goaltenders. But by how much? Benn is coming off one of the worst seasons in his career, and could potentially be just as bad if not worse. Pavelski is 35 and was already expected to take a step back due to age, and Radulov isn’t much younger at 33 years old. Seguin should be just fine so long as he makes up with the goaltending posts, but what can he do if those around him keep struggling?
Oh, and while he is not a forward, John Klingberg is also pointless across three games. Just saying.
That being said... It’s a bit cheap to use the same green light as with the goaltending duo, but the Stars’ top forwards should get much better in the near future. Yes, many of the players are on the wrong side of 30 and likely past their primes. But the Top 6 as a whole has a good chance to get going as Pavelski develops more chemistry with his new teammates. They’re also missing Jason Dickinson and Corey Perry due to injury, either one of which could provide a boost upon return to the lineup.
And while they aren’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard, the Top 6 is at least possessing the puck. According to Hockey Reference, all of the aforementioned players have positive CF% and FF% scores. Benn and Seguin have also been rather “unlucky,” posting PDO’s of 83.3 and 94.1 (compared to an expected 100) respectively. Sure, small sample sizes and all that, but the same applies to the lack of offense.
Not to mention the fact that Roope Hintz has started the season off strong, and has arguably been the Stars’ best player. If he keeps up the pace, his play will help elevate his fellow Top 6 forwards, helping them find the back of the net once again.
Dallas Lost to the Red Wings
It’s all over, because... Look, losing to Boston and St. Louis is understandable — they were both Stanley Cup Finalists last year, and they still represent the cream of the crop in the NHL on most top-five lists. But Detroit? They lost to a team expected to be one of the worst in the league this year?!? That’s just sad...right?
If you want to be a playoff team in the NHL, it’s relatively simple. You need to beat the bad teams most of the time, the middle-tier roughly 50/50, and the best teams on occasion. Remember, more than half of the league makes the playoffs — average is good enough. But if you want to be a true Stanley Cup contender, then you almost have to beat the bad teams every time — otherwise you’re just leaving points on the table and setting yourself up for a low playoff seed.
The Stars are a playoff-calibre team trying to become a true contender. There’s hardly any excuse for blowing a lead to a team like the Red Wings.
Except... Sometimes, misery is in need of good company. The Nashville Predators also lost to Detroit, to a score of 5-3. Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Penguins lost their opener against the Buffalo Sabres, and the Tampa Bay Lightning have only won one of their three games.
And then there’s the San Jose Sharks, the only team besides Dallas to start the year 0-3-0 (so far). You think Dallas fans have it bad? The Sharks have scored just a single goal in each of their three losses. The Stars have gone 0-6 on the power play, but the Sharks have gone 0-14. They’ve given up 12 total goals compared to the Stars’ nine, three of which were short-handed. And unlike Dallas, their goaltending was a source of major concern heading into the year, so sunny skies aren’t necessarily right around the bend.
Sure, those first two games were against the Vegas Golden Knights — widely considered to be cup contenders — but the latest was against the Anaheim Ducks, who aren’t expected to make the playoffs. In other words, they’ve faced a similar schedule as Dallas and have been even worse. So unless you’re ready to write off the Sharks, perhaps it’s not time to do the same with Dallas.
(At least, not until the Stars lose to the Washington Capitals tomorrow. Then feel free to lose all hope and cancel your cable subscription.)