Cody Eakin, Trevor Daley, and the Dallas Stars Defensive Zone
How is the Dallas Stars checking unit doing through five games?
The Dallas Stars picked up a point on Saturday in a game where they scored five goals. Coming off the year they had and the acquisitions they made this off-season the expectation is that when they score five goals the result of the game shouldn't be in doubt. They didn't really even deserve the point they got.
The roster was constructed with the idea that the Stars would come at opponents with wave after wave of attack. The Tyler Seguin unit is the tip of the spear. The Jason Spezza unit, however it is eventually constructed, should provide well above average production. For this to work out most efficiently the Stars are relying on the Cody Eakin unit to be an effective checking line.
|Name||Zone Start %||Corsi Comp||Corsi +/-|
Through five games they have been woefully ineffective as a unit, but the options for fixing the situation are slim outside of "play better". They're playing the tough minutes every night (against a group with a 58% Corsi average) buried in their own end with only 38% offensive zone starts per night. It isn't really working out.
I wanted to see how that looked in the matchups. What we have here is how each usual member of the Stars third line fared against the opposing line they most usually faced at even strength. (Thank you naturalstattrick.)
The Flyers and Predators games stand out in a very big way. Claude Giroux and company drilled Eakin. The unit led by the apparently resurrected Derek Roy also tagged the third line, but the un-pictured Colin Wilson did too. It's worth pointing out that they did a good job against Sidney Crosby, but overall the trend is troubling.
Should the Stars be worried? Sure, to some extent.
We're only five games into the season, and the Stars are still trying to sort out how the lineup is going to look. There will inevitably be some ups and downs. Against the Flyers there were plenty of both. Lindy Ruff threw caution into the wind with his yolo lineup featuring a top line of Seguin, Spezza, and Jamie Benn. All three were productive, but two of the goals were on the power play so the production is a bit misleading.
Putting that line together forced the Stars to rely on the Eakin line to a greater extent. The new unit of Curtis McKenzie, Vernon Fiddler, and Ales Hemsky had some offensive responsibility. The fourth line was there. None of it was really pretty. The entire group struggled, but the power play was clicking so well that the Stars were able to survive.
What can the Stars do about it? Different lines are a possibility, but some of the same problems will likely remain unless the Stars have Spezza centering a second line of attack. Perhaps McKenzie or Colton Sceviour get a shot with Spezza.
Alternatively, the Stars could break up the third line. Moving Antoine Roussel or Ryan Garbutt up the line up to play on the wing with Spezza with an offensively capable player like Hemsky or Sceviour could provide a different look. McKenzie had a solid debut game. He couldn't do much worse on the third line than what the Stars got against the Flyers.
One change that needs to be, and seems to be, considered is getting Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski away from the third line. The problems aren't their full responsibility, but the role they are being asked to play isn't working for them. They are playing the role traditionally played by Brenden Dillon. They are essentially playing behind the Eakin line in their own end for the most part. Dillon is working as a defensive safeguard for the Seguin line. The Stars seem to be leaning this way, but with a full cupboard of defensemen against the Canucks the Stars should probably flip the two pairs.
This image shows the Corsi rate per minute of each Stars defenseman on the ice with each member of the third line through five games this season. Essentially this is net shot attempts per minute for each defenseman when on the ice with the checkers. The negative numbers are italicized in red.
Kevin Connauton has barely played with the trio so take this numbers with a grain of salt. There are some contextual effects to take into account here, but not so much for the point to be drastically changed. Goligoski and Daley are getting drilled in a defensive context with this unit, and the Stars have a viable option available to help turn the tide defensively. They should consider putting Dillon back where he is needed.
The Eakin line has some issues to sort out, but as you can see the Stars can help them out by tweaking the way they are deploying the defense corps. The Stars are still working this out on the fly so patience is of the essence.
But hey guys, help Eakin and his buddies out a little. They're struggling as a group.