When it comes to high-end offensive talent, the Dallas Stars don’t have a single weapon; they’ve got an arsenal. Since the calendar flipped to 2016, however, Dallas’ two biggest guns have been shooting blanks. Consider these stats:
Through December 31, team captain Jamie Benn tallied 24 goals in 39 games. That scoring pace, if maintained over the course of a full season, would gain Benn entrance to the elite fifty-goal club. Since January 1, though, the Benn has just eight in 28 games, a 23-goal pace.
Dallas’ top center has struggled mightily, as well. Tyler Seguin ended 2015 on a 48 goal clip, scoring 23 times in 39 games. He’s found the back of the net just nine times in 2016, which extrapolates out to 26 goals over a full season.
Presidents’ Trophy or Draft Lottery?
In today’s low-scoring NHL, 20-goal scorers are a prized commodity. Most players who put up numbers similar to Benn’s and Seguin’s 2016 tallies either have, or would soon have, contracts paying them well in excess of $4 million a year. But the two Stars aren’t “most players.” Much more is expected from them, and rightly so. They’re budding superstars, and the first three months of the season weren’t an aberration, they were an expectation. The duo’s performance since January 1 has been frustrating for the players themselves, as well as their coaches and fans. And strange though it may seem, having two “20-goal” scorers on the top line is dragging the Stars down.
The Stars are built for speed. They’re not designed to score first, then trap and grind the opposing team into oblivion; they’re designed to simply out-score the opposition. So far this season, the Stars are a fearsome 30-9-2 when either Benn or Seguin scores. When the duo is held off the score sheet, Dallas is 10-11-6. Put another way, when either player scores, Dallas is a Presidents’ Trophy candidate; when neither scores, they’re in the running for the top pick in the draft. That’s a huge difference, and it’s knocked the Stars off their lofty perch atop the Central Division.
Interesting Times, Indeed
While Benn and Seguin have struggled to rediscover their mojo, Dallas’ defense corps has been whittled down significantly. John Klingberg and Jordie Benn are both recovering from injuries, and Jason Demers’ season came to an abrupt end Tuesday night in Montreal after he fell awkwardly into the corner boards.
The Stars called up defenseman Stephen Johns, who will play his first game in Victory Green Friday night against the team that drafted him back in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks. Sure to see plenty of ice time as well are Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak, who struggled to break into the lineup earlier this season.
Both Dallas and Chicago have 88 points, though the Blackhawks occupy first place in the Central by virtue of the first tie-breaker, regulation and overtime wins. The St. Louis Blues are one point back. The Stars host the Blues Saturday night. Dallas’ next six games, and eight of ten remaining in March, are against playoff-bound teams. The two games against non-playoff teams feature the same opponent: the Arizona Coyotes, who put a 6-3 hurtin’ on the Stars back on February 18.
In short, the next three weeks might be the toughest challenge these Stars have faced this season. It’s not a stretch to call it the toughest challenge of the Jim Nill/Lindy Ruff era. If Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin can pull out of their collective slump, Dallas could regain control of the Central Division by the end of March. If the duo continues to be less than dynamic, however, the team could finish the month in one of the two wild card playoff berths. For the Stars and their fans, these are interesting times, indeed.