What Has Been Disappointing for the Dallas Stars Through the First 10 Percent?
To bookend the happy surprises we discussed on Monday, the DBD crew examines what things haven't gone as well as expected (or hope) in the season's first nine games.
Earlier this week we took a sunny look at the Dallas Stars and their 100-point pace through the first eight games, chronicling some of the happy surprises in the season's first stretch.
Today we tackle the flip side of that analysis - what things have been disappointing in the early going. Yes, there's one more game to add to the tally, but the Stars are now just on the other side of that 10 percent mark (10.9 to be exact), and there weren't that many surprises in terms of trends.
The pieces are meant to give each other context - things aren't as rosy as they might seen just looking at happy surprises nor as dire as it might look if you examine only these disappointments.
This is probably the most obvious of all the individual disappointments. The Stars knew Anders Lindback had a rough end to last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but with the input of goalie coach Mike Valley, they saw him as a young goalie whose confidence could be built back up and a good choice to solidify the backup role
To be fair to Lindback, he's only had two stars with the Stars, but both are the only regulation losses of the season to this point. And while you can excuse the first game as a poor overall team performance against the Predators, he was a huge individual problem in the loss to the Islanders.
Solutions aren't easily available. Neither Jussi Rynnas nor Jack Campbell are off to stellar starts in the AHL, and the Stars frenetic style of play means they aren't making anything easy for any goalie at the moment. Still, the Stars were hoping to finally have an answer to the backup goalie problem this season. Instead they just have more questions.
If the Stars uber-dangerous top unit on the power play is comparable to a supernova, then the penalty kill has, at times, deserved to be called a black hole.
(Eventually I am going to run out of astronomy comparisons for the Stars special teams, but today is not that day).
The Stars currently sit 25th with a problematic 77.1 percent penalty kill rate. For comparison, the best teams at this point of the season (Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota) are in the 90s. There have absolutely been a few big penalty kills, such as the 5-on-3 minutes they got through against the Blues on Tuesday, but overall the unit has looked shaky even with the reintroduction of Jamie Benn as part of the regular rotation.
As with many parts of the Stars defensive issues, some of this can be fixed with a little more consistent goaltending, and to be fair you have to point out that the Stars have faced three of the four most dangerous power play teams in the league in the first nine games. But 77 percent isn't going to cut it over the long run.
It would be unfair to say the Stars so-called pitbull line has been ineffective this season. After all, Antoine Roussel, Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt have combined for six goals and 14 points in nine games while bringing their unique brand of frenetic and sometimes frantic energy to the game. That's right about the pace the three were at last year.
Here's the thing about raised expectations, though - two of the three are playing with new contracts and all three got very positive attention at the end of last season - what you did to get the good attention isn't enough anymore. And while Garbutt, Eakin and Roussel are still bringing about 1.5 points per game and energy, their sometimes scrambly defense and occasionally ill-timed penalties have brought them down from what they really could be. This line has, at times, been destroyed in possession metrics when deployed in a primarily defensive role, and if they're not true checkers (and assuming the Stars develop two scoring lines once Valeri Nichushkin is healthy again), their jobs on the team are slightly more murky.
Still, this isn't a disappointment of execution as much as expectation. The pitbulls are who they were last year - dangerous, energetic, chaotic and sometimes counterproductive. All three took great strides as last season went on, and the Stars will be counting on the same to happen again this year.
Team Defense/Puck Possession
If there's one thing the Stars were never built to be this season, it's a defensive juggernaut. From the moment Stars GM Jim Nill started acquiring players like Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, it was clear this year's team was going to try and win via offensive firepower rather than neutral zone trap fundamentals.
But with the increased offense came the caveat of at least an average defense, something the Stars found in the back half of last season. And the offense was also supposed to help out the defense by dominating puck possession, leaving less available time and opportunity for teams to take advantage of a relatively inexperienced blueline.
While there are some trends in the right direction the past few games, more notably on the puck possession end than goals allowed, the early season returns are still disappointing. The Stars are exactly the offensive juggernaut they were made out to be in the offseason, but the leaky goals against has already shown itself to be an Achilles heal. There are lots of potential solutions, from a slight turning down of the run-and-gun mentality so there aren't so many odd-man rushes against to smarter positional play from the defensemen to more consistent goaltending. And everyone from the janitor at the AAC to Nill knows something needs to be better.
Because of all the things on this list, this one has the potential to be the most significant long-term problem if left unchecked.