Anatomy of a Loss: Grading the Dallas Stars Forwards Against the St. Louis Blues

How it all went wrong for the Dallas Stars against the St. Louis Blues: A Forward's Story.

It's been almost a week since Dallas failed in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals. With the wound more or less sutured, perhaps now's the time to take a sobering look at what went wrong from the forward's perspective.

In a seven game series, no one player can truly be responsible for deciding its fate. For the Dallas Stars forwards, this was exponentially true. Playoff series being the small sample sizes they are can't be compartmentalized into an emphasis, or inversion of regular season trends. Nonetheless, they can be telling in their own way.

For example, throughout the regular season, Dallas was 2nd in the league in Goals For Per game at 3.23. Against St. Louis, they averaged 2 goals per game. Dallas' offense struggled for a lot of reasons. First and foremost:

The Top Line Struggled

The trio of Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, and Patrick Sharp were good against the Minnesota Wild. But with Eakin playing first line center, they predictably struggled.

Eakin and Benn in particular spent way too much time in their own zone. This goes back to my argument about trying Radek Faksa with Jamie Benn: Faksa gets quality chances. Why not try him with a winger who can capitalize on those chances better than Ales Hemsky and Antoine Roussel? Eakin played solid against the Wild, but my theory is that Benn's production with Eakin will regress to a mean lower than if he were paired with Faksa. Again, in theory.

My point isn't to say "I told you so". Well, a little bit. It's to emphasize what we already know: Eakin is not a first line center. Without the vision to generate chances, or the IQ to suppress chances, he ended up dragging Benn and Sharp down with him. This isn't entirely on Eakin. St. Louis keyed in on that matchup, forcing Benn to play Paul Stastny straight up: Stastny happened to be the best possession forward of anyone on either team.

Patrick Eaves was Missed Too

One of the reasons why I'm in favor of resigning Eaves to a nice, small deal, is that he's been a defensive boon for any line he's played on. The best line combo in terms of shot attempt differential of anyone was the Mattias Janmark, Jason Spezza, Patrick Eaves combo, clocking in an inexplicable 62 Percent corsi for. That happened to be better than the Fak 'Em trio (still elite until the final horn).

Rookies, and Half Rooks Carried the Offense

Mattias Janmark, Colton Sceviour, and Radek Faksa all had two goals a piece against the Blues. That was better than Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, and Patrick Sharp who all had one. Janmark in particular was a beast. He was Dallas' best possession player against the Blues by a wide margin. All in all, the rookies accounted for 10 points while the veterans accounted for 16. In a way that's reassuring, but that gap should not have been that close.

It's a win for Dallas' depth moving forward. This was my biggest takeaway: as the stakes got higher, the new kids on the block stepped up and did their part. Special nod to Colton Sceviour. He's played 17 playoff games with the Stars in the Travis Moen role, yet has 8 points. I'm as bullish on Dallas' forward prospects as anyone else, but if Nill resigned Sceviour and Eaves, I wouldn't complain.

4th Line was an Event Horizon

Speaking of Moen, as unfair as this is, there's no excuse to not make simple stupid use of a 4th line. Moen was never the answer to the Blues' physicality, nor was his presence on a Cup winning team gonna transform him into an efficient possession player. His CF was 38 Percent. Well above Brett Ritchie's 28 Percent. And below Vernon Fiddler's 42 Percent CF. None of those are good numbers. A bad 4th line won't lose you games. But they can steal a game. Just look at the New York Islanders' 4th line of Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, and Casey Cizikas who were excellent possession players in their series against Tampa Bay. My hope is that with players like Devin Shore, Jason Dickinson, and Matej Stransky, Dallas can form a 4th line that can snap, crackle, and pop in the very near future.

Anemic Power Play

Dallas had around 30 minutes of ice time on the man advantage. They only managed two goals. In game 3, the Power Play managed just one shot on goal with six minutes of ice time.

Dallas' forwards weren't the major problem against St. Louis, but it's easy to identify places where they could improve.