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Stray Observations Following Stars’ 4-0 Loss to Marner’s Streaking Leafs

Jason Robertson vs. Mitch Marner. That was the headliner. Marner’s 19-game point streak versus Roberton’s 18-game point streak. It’s a cool story, but their respective streaks felt tangential to what turned out to be frustrating night for everyone in victory green. In terms of frustrations, take your pick: opposing goaltending; the power play not capitalizing on prime scoring chances, the penalty kill not capitalize on prime scoring chances, etc. The game was a Murphy’s Law of lost opportunities, making the 4-0 outcome feel perfunctory even with Dallas’ recent comeback heroics in mind.

If you’re a glass half-empty kind of fan, you have a linchpin: the standings. The Stars have been the top dog in the Central, but it’s always been a bit tenuous, and we’re seeing just how tenuous. Winnipeg’s win over Florida puts them first in the Central. The team behind Dallas? You might be surprised to learn that it’s not Colorado — who have dropped to the second wild card spot in the West thanks to a slew of injuries (now they can add Nathan MacKinnon to that list) — but Minnesota. They’re five points behind, so they have a lot of ground to cover, but the Central race is starting to tighten its screws. These things might not matter now, but styles make fights. I’m sure the Stars would rather play one of the Pacific’s many are they/aren’t they contenders than Colorado or Winnipeg.

For the more optimistic, this is just one game. One game in which nothing went right. The night was dark and full of errors; what better reflection of this Burn the Tape experience than the fact that even the hockey gods stepped in to stop Robertson from catching up to Connor McDavid?

Instead of tracking events of what we already know, let’s track unfolding stories with a feature I’ll be running from time to time here at DBD with some stray observations.

Thankfully Dallas’ Power Play doesn’t have to play Matt Murray for the rest of the season.

One thing the Stars can’t complain about was the lack of opportunity. They are fifth in the league on the PP, while Toronto’s PK unit ranks 14th. Dallas went 0-6 on the power play. Tonight was hardly a reflection of what they’re capable of. Per 60 minutes of play, they’re second in the NHL in goals, and first in expected goals per 60. The top unit is a wagon, and they’ll continue to be.

If there’s a criticism, it’s that the second unit seems to be good at posturing, but not producing. I’m with the fans on this: Ryan Suter quarterbacking the second unit feels like self-sabotage. He has four points on this season; the lowest of all defensemen (not counting Joel Hanley). When you look at where offense is being generated with him on the ice, it’s not at the point. In addition, Nils Lundkvist has a far more positive effect. I realize Suter has more experience than Lundkvist on the power play, but your ideal units should belong to the players with the highest potential to increase scoring.

This is a nitpick in the grand scheme of things, but on a night when the first unit couldn’t buy a goal, the second unit needs to step up. Then again there won’t be nights like this.

Not all of it was supernatural though. I felt like Robertson was trying to force some of his shots — shooting with too much power — perhaps feeling the frustration of not scoring more than most. There was definitely a case of Overpassing the Puck on several sequences too.

Kyle Dubas’ gamble on Matt Murray is paying off

Going into the 2022-2023 season, a lot was made about Dubas’ moves to fix their goaltending. He let Jack Campbell walk, and brought in a former full-time backup (Samsonov), and a declining, oft-injured former starter (Murray). Whether you consider Dubas smart or lucky, it’s hard to argue with results. Both have saved over 10 goals above expected per MoneyPuck’s model, and the Stars couldn’t solve Murray. Stars fans don’t want to hear it as much as I don’t want to write it, but Toronto is a powerhouse. Yes, we can make our jokes about chokes all day, and I’ll join you — but Dallas lost to one of the best teams in the league missing half their blueline. After an awful start, they’re only three points back of the Boston Bruins, with just five losses in regulation. At the end of the day, there’s no shame in this one.

Tyler Seguin has been productive, but has struggled to perform. That’s beginning to change (sort of).

On the surface, Seguin looks great if we grade on a curve. He has 19 points in 25 games. That’s good for 62 points over a full season. That looks like a miracle compared to last season, despite only having four goals. However, his possession numbers haven’t been sparkling overall. Without his speed, he can’t take advantage of his hands, and without his hands, who is he?

Tonight we got glimpses of the old Seguin. He had moments were he was able to forecheck with speed; some of his creative puckhandling that once made him one of the NHL’s elite even showed up; and he battled…hard. The jury’s still out on Seguin. Maybe the injuries are just the kind of injuries you don’t walk away from. Maybe he still needs more time to gain back what he lost. Or maybe this is who he is. Whatever you think of Seguin, he does appear to be turning a corner (going off Game Score). Time will tell if the math checks out.

Seguin’s line, on the other hand, is failing to do both.

Mason Marchment has just three points in his last seven games. During that time, Denis Gurianov has been taken off the Seguin line in favor of Radek Faksa. Faksa is not a long term solution and Gurianov has turned himself into something of a short term problem (it appeared he got taken off the second PP unit momentarily after his blown coverage on the Auston Matthews goal — although it started with a bad clear from Jani Hakanpaa).

It’s too early to start talking about free agency, but there’s a reason Dallas has been rumored to be linked to scoring help. All the lines seem to have chemistry except for the Seguin line.

Watch out for Wyatt

We talk a lot about Wyatt Johnston’s future, and not enough about what he’s doing in the present. Twice he absolutely bullied Toronto defenders with a slick toe-drag — a move he’s made great use of in the past. He’s not super productive (which is not a criticism for the teenager), but my spider senses are tingling, just as they were in June. He’s due for an offensive outburst. Just check out the trendlines in his recent Game Scores (if you’re unsure how Game Score works, don’t forget I wrote a 7000-word refresher; obviously you can skip to the Game Score part and not read all 7000 words just to have context for this paragraph).

Humble opinion: a winger is not the help Dallas needs.

It’s hard to observe much in a game in which Dallas was shutout, so let’s end this one with a hot take. Dallas wants to fix their hole at right wing on the Seguin line and I get it. If they feel this is their weakest link in a competitive year, then it makes sense. But Dallas’ problem is not offense. They lead the league in scoring. What they don’t lead the league in is shots against at even strength (11th). Or shot attempts against (8th). Or expected goals against (17th). That last part is worrying. It means teams are controlling the shot quality battle when you take away special teams. Pete DeBoer obviously notices: that’s why we’ve seen Lundkvist and Colin Miller scratched; why we’ve seen the pairings juggled; and why the only mainstay has been Hakanpaa with Esa Lindell. Adding a more stable defender may not be the solution fans want, but I think it’s the solution the team needs.

P.S. Jake Oettinger was not the problem tonight.