Show me I can fall
On my own
This team, eh?
You’ve probably memorized a couple of numbers, this year: 1-7-1, 14-1-1, 18 straight penalties killed, etc. It’s been a year of extremes for these Stars, both on and off the ice.
Just to do a quick sanity check, here is how much the Stars’ have strung together this year, in either direction:
4+ Game Winning/Losing Streaks
0-4-1 (10/10 - 10/18)
4-0 (10/29 - 11/5)
7-0 (11/13 - 11/25)
0-3-1 (11/26 - 12/3)
6-0 (12/28 - 1/9)
4-0 (2/8 - 2/15)
0-3-2 (2/27 - 3/7)
That four-game threshold makes things look pretty good, and that’s because they sort of are. Dallas is more or less locked into third in the West with 14 games to play, which is a far cry from even last year, let alone the two before that, which saw the Stars nibbling at the edges of the playoffs until late in the year. No, these Stars did enough to put themselves in a very comfortable spot, if one can say that about a playoff position which virtually guarantees playing St. Louis or Colorado in the first round.
But I said “virtually” and “more or less” for a reason, so let’s talk about the current five-game skid, one in which the Stars have scored one goal in their last three games, and no 5v5 goals since Denis Gurianov scored in the second period against St. Louis on February 29th.
Dallas has looked like a perfectly fine, but impotent team lately. Juuse Saros may have their number, but Nashville is a poor defensive team who has stopped scoring, and they still shut out the Stars despite scoring only three goals in two games. I mean, normally, holding the same team to 1.5 goals per game in back-to-back contests gets you a 2-0 lead in a playoff series, but Congratulations to the Dallas Stars, because they are here to belie even the mildly high standard they have managed to set for themselves. They have a paltry +5 goal differential on the season, putting themselves in the vaunted company of other playoff teams like Calgary (-5), the Isles (+0), and now Nashville (-4). In other words, Dallas’s Jennings-ish defensive identity and best goaltending in over a decade (and the two may be of a piece, to a large extent) has gotten them just five goals above a hypothetical team that tied every game 0-0.
Scoring is important, in hockey. Dallas has just seven goals in their last five games, and that includes two Hero Mode goals at 6-on-5 against Boston and St. Louis.
Go back to Dallas’s most recent four-game winning streak back in mid-February, and sure enough, they scored at least three goals in every game. However, for those who remember some trepidation at the time that Dallas’s scoring was mostly inflated due to a hot power play (five PPG in four games), their now-ephemeral offense has eminently justified those concerns.
Dallas is great at keeping games gritty, boring, and low-scoring. But when the chips have been down, Dallas has struggled to force the issue, and looking like Los Angeles or Anaheim against the lowly Predators twice in a row is not a good sign.
A playoff series is a short stretch of time, just like these streaks. Four wins (or losses) decide a series, and Dallas’s roster is allegedly built with playoffs in mind, or at least I’m assuming that’s why Corey Perry has been getting Mats Zuccarello Ice Time in the last few defeats. So you’ll pardon me if I’m not quite ready to tut-tut this latest bit of redundant results away. Fixing issues before they spiral is precisely what teams have to do, come next month. That Dallas hasn’t managed to solve Mikko Koskinen or Juuse Saros—who is good, yes, but not that good—is extremely concerning. The Stars will get some lucky goals on some of those points shots, eventually, but this isn’t a team with the ability to carve up a defense of even middling quality. And I worry about that quite a bit, given what we watched last year.
Colorado has scored 51 more goals than Dallas this year, and given up only 10 more. St. Louis has given up 16 more, but scored 40 more. The problem is the same problem, because it’s really the only problem: the Stars don’t care enough about scoring to do what it would take to juice their system—assuming Rick Bowness can press the same buttons Jim Montgomery was able to earlier this year. That means when your more volatile team elements like goaltending and special teams dry up, you’re gonna be exposed really quickly against teams who can, you know, create offense.
There is still time. And Dallas really doesn’t have to create that much more offense to be a solidly positive team again. But this latest streak is troubling particularly because it really shouldn’t be happening. Not to this team, with this identity. You can talk about Tyler Seguin not going to the dirty areas again and again, but players are pretty motivated to score goals as it is, individually. They will try to score them, or to do the things that can lead to them if they know the plan. But for the Stars lately, the plan has largely been to throw pucks into the muck from the outside, and hope for tips or rebounds. Again, watch those Nashville games. Would things have massively changed if players bulldozed to the net and lost the puck in the process, individually? Or if, during one of the tepid bits of puck rotation that passes for an offensive cycle in Dallas these days, a player or two had gotten a few extra cross checks in order to say they were standing “at the netfront” when the point shot got blocked halfway through its journey from the high slot? Maybe, sure. But more likely, maybe not.
The players have to be better though, and that can’t be said enough. Alex Radulov is continuing to fight something fierce, as both his game scores and actual scoring have plummeted in the last dozen games. Miro Heiskanen, who remains outstanding, has not made many outstanding plays at all lately, which is not quite good enough from The Stars’ Best Defenseman. John Klingberg is still fluctuating more wildly than is normal for even him, and Roope Hintz has one goal in his last 13 games. Benn has one goal in 12 games since his Carolina hat trick. Joe Pavelski has scored in back-to-back games just once this entire season. These aren’t unavoidable results, no matter the team’s system. Players gotta play, and they should especially be able to make plays against worse teams.
So as we wait for this latest skid to end, perhaps there is some comfort to be taken in this: that for every bad stretch Dallas has had this year, they’re managed to balance it out with an equally wild ride back up the standings. They just need to make sure they curtail this streak in time for the next one to begin before their season ends.