There are a lot of moving parts involved in hockey teams, and finding the right balance for all those parts is often the key to success in the NHL.
A team might, for example, have an All-Star goaltender or an explosive offense, yet still struggle to generate wins because they have an impotent powerplay or awful ability to defend.
The Dallas Stars found this out the hard way last season. Despite having the league’s second most dangerous offense at 3.13 goals-per-game, the Stars finished 26th in both goals against and penalty kill. These defensive deficiencies were the primary cause of the team missing the playoffs, falling seven points short.
The Stars set out to bring more balance to their roster for 2015-16, and boy, did they ever. After 15 games thus far Dallas is still 2nd in goal-scoring, but they’ve slimmed down their goals against to the 17th spot and their penalty kill to 21st. Their powerplay, which was 8th last season, has also jumped up to 2nd right now. The offseason additions of Antti Niemi, Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya are all having a positive effect, but the returning members from last year’s team have tightened up their play as well.
While those defensive categories still, undoubtedly, have room for improvement, those rankings don’t truly showcase just how effective those areas have been for Dallas. The continued dynamism of the high-powered offense mixed in with new improvements defensively and in goal have given the team the sort of essential balance that they sought, creating a winning recipe that has spurred the Stars to a franchise-best 12-3 record to start this season.
Sunday afternoon against the Detroit Red Wings was an astute example of this. The Stars scored twice in the first period to take a 2-0 lead and then fell into a defensive shell from there, only allowing 14 shots on goal, few of them high quality, over the final 40 minutes of the game. When the Red Wings did manage to get shots on net Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen was there and on point, making 22 saves to lead the team to a 2-1 victory.
Whether it’s 2-1 grinds or 5-3 track meets, such as their November 3rd victory over the Boston Bruins, Dallas is playing well from the top of their roster to the bottom and finding a variety of different ways to win games. Their 12-3 record is currently good enough for the top spot in the cutthroat Western Conference and, with how the team is playing, shows signs of being a trend that could very well continue throughout the remainder of the season.