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Roster Watch: Trying to Sort Out the Defense

Week by week we examine the state of the Stars roster. Our second edition tries to untangle the impact of shaky goaltending from overall defensive performance, and considers the roles various Stars are expected to play.

A tough loss in St. Louis closed out this week's Ups and Downs
A tough loss in St. Louis closed out this week's Ups and Downs
Ronald Martinez

The great Jere Lehtinen topped 50 points exactly twice in his career. One of those years was 1998-99, when he finished tied for 72nd in the NHL, scored 20 goals, and won the Stanley Cup. Even in an era of depressed scoring this was modest production, especially considering he spent a significant portion of his time on the ice with players like Mike Modano and Brett Hull. Yet anybody familiar with those Stars teams knows how critical he was to their success, and how great an individual player he was. The point is that hockey is a game of roles, and as a game of roles, the ways we evaluate individual players differ. Which brings us to this week’s…

Up

Alex Goligoski (3 GP / 4 A / Even) - Better than his partner, at least over the past three games. Yes, the overall defensive unit is a mess right now, but it's hard to look at the last three games and hang any of that on Goose.

Jason Spezza (3 GP / 1 G / 3 A) - Listen, plus/minus is an awful, flawed stat, but Spezza is somehow the Stars' second leading scorer and a minus 4. Yeah, power play production is a part of that, but more useful defensive metrics (like Defensive Point Shares) tell the same story. So long as the offense remains prolific, he's a net-positive contributor for the Stars, but if the offense dries up, he could fall quickly.

Tyler Seguin (3 GP / 2 G / 3 A) - The league's leading scorer hasn't been held off the scoresheet since Nashville. Right now, Seguin's entire job is driving the Dallas offense, and he's doing that job with aplomb. Even a shift to wing hasn't slowed him down.

Jamie Benn (3 GP / 1 G / 2 A) - This one would have been a slam dunk had Jamie managed to convert against St. Louis and secure a victory. Instead, he'll settle for being a point-per-game player and the physical force behind Dallas' top line. Even his one blemish (an ugly four goals against in Long Island) can be partially blamed on suspect goaltending.

Trevor Daley (3 GP / 2 Pts / 26:08 ATOI) - By the skin of his teeth. The pinching is starting to become problematic, but who else do the Stars have? Daley leads the blueline in scoring, time on the ice, and shots on goal. For now, that raw production outweighs shaky underlying metrics.

Patrick Eaves (3 GP / 1 G / 1 A) - Eaves got his first goal of the season against New Jersey, and followed it up with another point against the Islanders. Still struggles to crack 10 minutes a night, but two points in 3 games for a depth player is deserving of praise.

Shawn Horcoff (3 GP / 1 G / 13:82 ATOI) - Glimpses of Playoff Horcoff last week, including a season high 15:07 on Long Island. He's also found a role on the second power play unit.

Down

Antoine Roussel (3 GP / 1 G / 13:86 ATOI) - Roussel barely broke 11 minutes against New Jersey, and dropped his season average over the past week. A six shot, one goal effort against the Islanders was nice, but against St. Louis and New Jersey he struggled to make an impact. He seems frustrated.

Ryan Garbutt (3 GP / 1 A / 0 PIM) - Is it possible Garbutt has become too restrained? No, we don't want him taking silly, petulant penalties, but sometimes hooks and holds are the byproduct of defensive engagement. It feels like we're still waiting on his first "moment" of the year.

Erik Cole (3 GP / 0 G / 1 A) – Cole played more than 3 minutes on the power play against both the Islanders and the Blues. He also received a season-high 16:10 in ice time against the Devils, but had little production to show for it. The speedy winger just isn’t getting his shots right now (only 4 during this stretch), and that’s a problem for the Dallas offense.

Cody Eakin (3 GP / 1 A / 47.61 FO%) - Struggling on the dot, scuffling in the defensive zone, still seeing brutal usage. Wasn't Eakin's line supposed to be the unit Dallas could throw on the ice with the game on the line to lock things down? It seems an awful lot like he's caught between the checking line and Dallas' glaring need for secondary scoring. The ambiguity might be impacting his game.

Vernon Fiddler (3 GP / 1 G / 56.82 FO%) - It's nice to see a goal and an upward trend to his face-offs. However, Fiddler is a major part of a major problem: the penalty kill. Time will assign percentages of blame to team defense and goaltending, but for now, Fiddler stays down.

Ales Hemsky (3 GP / 0 G / 0 A) - The chances are still coming, the effort is still there, but Hemsky just isn't finding his way onto the scoresheet. Better linemates would help. You have to think Hemsky is as excited as anyone about the looming return of Valeri Nichushkin.

Jyrki Jokipakka (2 GP / 2 S / -4) - A growing pains week for the young defender. I want to get excited about fun possession numbers, but the sample size is way too small. There are also a few high-profile mistakes to iron out. Better days will come.

Jamie Oleksiak (3 GP / 1 G / 7 H) - I had this all written out. Jamie gets his first goal and his first "Up" of the season. Unfortunately, the mistakes are still there, which is maybe why the ice time isn't (played just 11:51 against the Blues).

Anders Lindback (1 GP / 6 GA / .786 SV%) - Has to be better than the train wreck against the Islanders.

Kevin Connauton (1 GP / 10:55 TOI) - Did you notice him? Given the state of the Stars' defense, time in the press box cannot be a good thing.

In-Between

Kari Lehtonen (2 GP / 6 GA / .888 SV%) – Good Kari saved 25 of 27 against New Jersey, Bad Kari went 23 of 27 against St. Louis. Two saves. It seems unfair, but those are the margins between Dallas as a playoff team and Dallas playing golf.

Brenden Dillon (3 GP / 4 H / 6 Blk) – Obviously, last week’s decision weighed heavily on Mr. Dillon. I’m glad he reads the column. He felt much more engaged last week, didn’t he? The only thing keeping him out of the UP category is his ongoing participation in Dallas’ woeful penalty kill.

Jordie Benn (3 GP / 6 SOG / 2:27 APPTOI) – Another steady-eddie week for the elder Benn. Misses out on an up rating because he’s getting time on the power play without production, and because of the state of the overall defensive unit. Avoids the doghouse because his underlying numbers say Jordie isn’t the problem.

Curtis McKenzie (0 GP) - Spent a few games in the pressbox, then got on the bus back down to Austin. A likely casualty of Ruff's decision to go with one super line rather than a balanced attack.

Colton Sceviour (3 GP / 1 A / 2 SOG) - Pre-season visions of Sceviour as a breakout player now seem farfetched. It's not entirely fair to blame Sceviour, who hasn't been put consistently in scoring situations, nor is it fair to overlook solid possession numbers. What kind of NHL player is Sceviour going to be?

On the Shelf

Valeri Nichushkin – In Cedar Park on a conditioning assignment. Get excited.

Sergei Gonchar – Still no timetable, but inching his was closer.

Patrick Nemeth – Donezo, at least until playoff time.