The Dallas Stars came into the 2019-20 season with high expectations. After taking the St. Louis Blues to Game 7 of their second-round playoff series and acquiring Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera in the offseason, bookmakers and analysts had the Stars pinned as a playoff contender. With all their core players returning, as well as the emergence of Roope Hintz, the Stars were put in a position to win now. However, their 1-5-1 record, and no wins in regulation through seven games, raises questions about the team in Victory Green.
Lack of Identity & Creativity
The first question refers to the team’s identity. Jim Nill told Sean Shapiro in his most recent post in The Athletic, “But we aren’t where we want to be, and my biggest thing is we’ve got to get back to our identity. What are we known (for) as a team?” (from ‘Shap Shots: Nill on Star’s slow start…’, The Athletic – 10/14/19).
What’s most frustrating, is that the Stars had a strong identity a few years back. In both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, they were known for their quick-striking offense and relentless speed on the rush. Every opponent seemed to say the same thing about them: ‘Dallas is a quick team who can score at will.’ We’re going to have to make sure we get back and not let them get behind us. This was back when the Stars won the Western Conference and went into the playoffs as one of the league’s most lethal offenses.
Now, all fans hear from management is: ‘We want to be hard to play against. We want to be relentless.’ I get it. The Stars are meant to be a relentless team on the forecheck and heavy on the puck in all three zones. But at the same time, is identity too broad to stick to when times are tough? The question has to be raised, given the team’s talent that includes, Hintz, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, Pavelski, John Klingberg, and Miro Heiskanen: is playing “heavy hockey” the right style?
The Stars play by a basic script. They exit the zone with conservative control and without speed, which leads to dumping the puck and then a coin-flip into the boards for possession. Once in the zone, there is no creativity to their offense; there is no flow. They work the boards playing “heavy” then fire shots from the half-wall or from the point without much movement or unpredictable pre-shot activity. Through seven games, as a spectator, it’s predictable. It seems like I’m watching the same attempted vanilla plays every time. Through seven games, it isn’t working. The Stars are (in 5v5 Per Hour metrics) 29th in goals scored, 29th in expected goals and 24th in high danger chances. That is not good enough for the team’s talent.
Problems on the Power Play
One of the biggest issues plaguing the Stars right now is their power play. They are 1-for-22, a dreadful 4.5%. That is unacceptable for a team that can roll out units with Seguin, Klingberg, Pavelski, Benn and Radulov. Last season, the Stars ranked 11th in the league with a 21% power play success rate. If anything, they should’ve improved on the man advantage over the offseason with the acquisition of Pavelski.
One thing their power play is missing, are clean entries. In the past, they have gained the zone with speed by utilizing Klingberg and Heiskanen’s smooth skating after a drop pass in the neutral zone. This season, it looks like the Stars want to gain possession by dumping the puck and being heavy on the forecheck to gain the zone. In the zone, they’ve never looked crisp. Passes aren’t quick, one-timers from players like Seguin don’t exist, and they aren’t getting those critical second and third chances in close. Pucks from the point aren’t finding seams or deflections.
The good news is they are drawing penalties, something they were one of the league’s worst at last season. But it doesn’t do much good if you can’t convert on those chances. The Stars are shooting at 3.2% on the power play which will increase. It’s fine to see them funneling pucks to the net but right now, they’re only wiring pucks to the net. Even on the man advantage there lacks a certain flow and creativity to their offense.
There’s plenty of time for the Stars to find their identity and play up to the level they are capable of. That doesn’t negate the fact that through 10% of the season, they look lost and without answers. Cancelling practices, going through more film, constant line shuffling to find a spark, they are doing all they can to figure out what is going to help turn the light bulb on.
The team does have enough talent on their roster to be competitive. It’s a matter of connecting the dots before we see what it will take for that to happen. Whether the answer is finding new management, executing a big trade or bringing in a young prospect to ignite a spark, the Stars aren’t coming up short on headlines and drama to start their hopeful 2019-20 season.