When Goaltending Isn’t Enough

After an over-reliance on their goaltenders all season, the Stars’ offensive problems finally caught up to them.

The Dallas Stars let Ben Bishop down last night.

I know it. You know it. The St. Louis Blues know it. And, most importantly, the Stars know it.

The Stars’ undisputed MVP stopped 52 of 54 shots after 85:50 minutes of play. Jordan Binnington, meanwhile, faced only 30 shots. The Stars were outshot by the Blues 18-1 in the second period, and 13-3 in the third. Sure, it got better in overtime, but with numbers like that, it’s not hard to figure out why the Stars lost.

In the end, the Blues had worn the Stars down across seven games, and they emerged as the better team in large part thanks to being a deeper team. The Blues forward with the least amount of ice time was Ivan Barbashev with 13:05. That’s more than any of the Stars forth-line forwards — Justin Dowling was comparable with 12:55, but Jason Spezza (8:28) and Brett Ritchie (7:52) had numbers that are low for regulation, let alone a game that went to double overtime.

I know it seems silly to point to fourth line usage as a reason the Stars lost, but stay with me. In a game where they were in desperate need of some offense, one of their most creative playmakers (Spezza) was stuck on the bench. When head coach Jim Montgomery wanted to put in a fresh forward, he chose Ritchie because of his “toughness” instead of someone who can help drive possession like Valeri Nichushkin. And as per usual, when Ritchie inevitably committed a penalty, his usage plummeted.

Of course, when you don’t play your fourth line, the other forwards have to eat up those minutes instead. The third line of Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, and Andrew Cogliano played about the same minutes as the team’s top six. You could argue that’s in part because the Blues dominated offensive zone time in the second and third periods, but it’s also possible the Stars were in that position because they were too focused on playing defense. Chicken and the egg, I suppose.

But honestly, did we expect any differently from this Stars team? This is the type of team they’ve been all season long — one that relies heavily on their goaltending to save the day while failing to generate offense. If this game had been earlier in the series, we would have shrugged our shoulders and said, “Well, when you play this style of hockey, this result is to be expected sometimes.” It’s only because it was a Game 7 that it stung so bad.

This is the type of team Dallas has been all season long — one that relies heavily on their goaltending to save the day.

So in some ways, this is a fitting end to the season. The Stars only made the playoffs because of stellar goaltending from Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. If just one of the two was a few points lower on their save percentage, we would probably be about a month into offseason coverage. Just like the 2015-16 Stars couldn’t outlast their goaltending problems, the 2018-19 Stars couldn’t outlast their offensive problems.

With that all being said, now that we — and more importantly the Stars — know their shortcomings, here are a few of the Stars’ many offseason priorities:

Re-sign Mats Zuccarello

If the price is right, then Zuccarello needs to be in Victory Green next year. He was a perfect fit for the team, and is a big reason why they lasted so long in the playoffs. If they can’t re-sign him, they need to find a replacement top six option in free agency. Honestly, it’d be great if the Stars could do both, but the salary cap complicates things.

Acquire A Top Four Defenseman

I know I just spent ~600 words on how the Stars’ offense was their problem this season, but the Stars can’t expect to be a Stanley Cup contender so long as Roman Polak is their fourth best option on the blue line. Finding a steady, reliable partner for Miro Heiskanen would let the young Finn take his game to the next level. Easier said than done, but it needs to be a priority.

Make Room for Young Players on the Roster

If GM Jim Nill and head coach Jim Montgomery take away just a single thing from this season, this needs to be it. When Roope Hintz was given top-six minutes in the final month or so of the regular season, he flourished. Jason Dickinson earned the same opportunity in the playoffs, and he was one of the Stars’ best players. Someone like Denis Gurianov might be able to do the same, but in order for that to happen, the Stars need to stop filling their bottom six with veteran UFAs like Blake Comeau or Tyler Pitlick every offseason and finally put some trust in their young players.

Obviously there is much more Dallas needs to do, but it’s a start. Besides, we have an entire offseason to break down the Stars’ options. It’s just going to be a little shorter than usual.