Dallas Stars: Playoff Chances and Their Strange 2015

Fresh off a 5-3 victory over the Boston Bruins, the Dallas Stars are in a very interesting place. It is less than three weeks until the trade deadline hits and there is little clarity as to how the Stars will approach the deadline. After dumping a game in Buffalo, they have won two straight against Eastern Conference foes who currently occupy a playoff spot. They currently sit three points back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, as well as eight points back of the seventh seed. According to sportsclubstats.com, the Dallas Stars currently have an 18.2% chance of making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While it may seem like a very difficult task, the Stars have been rising to the occasion and look like a team that will at the very least make things interesting down the home stretch.

So Far an Interesting and Inconsistent 2015

The Dallas Stars ended 2014 with a bang, a 6-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. Their first game in 2015 was equally impressive, a 7-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.  Since then, it has been weeks of inconsistency and confusion at times. Following the domination in Minnesota, the Stars headed to Chicago and the Blackhawks really controlled a majority of the play.  Dallas finished the game with a 44.6 even-strength (EV) corsi-for % and they only lost the game 5-4 in overtime. In fact, a late, bad-angled goal by Brad Richards was the reason the Blackhawks were able to get the game to overtime. So even though they were behind possession-wise, the Stars were able to get a point and probably felt they deserved two. After Chicago, Dallas took on the Columbus Blue Jackets back at the American Airlines Center. The Stars finished the game with a solid advantage in possession and a 57.8 EV corsi-for %.  They lost that game, 4-2.  Two nights later, the Stars were on the wrong end of the possession game to the Nashville Predators but were able to sneak out a point in another overtime loss.  Another two nights go by and the Stars rock a 62.0 EV corsi-for % but lose to the Colorado Avalanche, 4-3 in regulation. The following game, the Stars are slightly out-possessed by the Ottawa Senators but completed a comeback to defeat the Senators 5-4. Are you starting to see where this is going?

I am a big fan of the advanced statistics and am very excited that the NHL is bringing them to their official website. They are generally a fantastic indicator of how a team or a certain player is performing on a night-to-night basis. In fact, of the top 16 teams in the league in terms of even strength corsi-for %, 12 of them currently occupy a playoff spot and the other 4 are all within 4 points of a spot themselves. Apparently the Dallas Stars don’t really care here in 2015 as they are out to defy the advanced stats almost nightly. There has been one game in which they out-possessed a team and won so far in 2015. In games that they have been out-possessed in 2015, they are 6-0-2. So what’s the deal?

Part of it has to do with special teams and its ability to completely change the landscape of a game. In the eight victories for the Stars in 2015, seven of them included at least one power-play goal being scored by Dallas (the one game they didn’t score a powerplay goal and win, they made up for it by scoring two shorthanded goals). Of the ten losses (including overtime losses), the Stars have managed just three powerplay goals while giving up six themselves. The powerplay has proven to be an incredibly impactful part of the game for the Stars in 2015. If it continues to get better, it can be a difference-maker for Dallas.

Another side of it has been the goaltending on both sides of the ice. Opposing goaltenders have been having career nights at times against the Stars. I will address the Stars goaltending situation more below as it may have gotten significantly better on Wednesday.

The Remaining Schedule and the Potential for Playoffs

The Dallas Stars have 28 games left on their schedule. 19 of them are against opponents who currently occupy a playoff position in the NHL. The Stars have gone 12-11-5 against teams that are currently in playoff position so far this season. They are 13-10-3 against teams that are out of playoff position at this time. 9 of the remaining games are against Western Conference teams that are all within an 8 point range of the Stars, so those games will be magnified. The potential is there and the Stars still have plenty of life left. Kari Lehtonen has been looking better as of late and just in case, Jim Nill acquired Jhonas Enroth on Wednesday in exchange for Anders Lindback and a third-round draft pick.

While Lehtonen has been playing better, the addition of Enroth works on multiple levels. For starters, he solidifies a backup position that has been in turmoil for years. The Stars really haven’t had a starter-caliber backup for several years and Enroth solves that problem. Also, Enroth could potentially push Lehtonen for playing time. If he does, the Stars potentially add a starter that could take them to the postseason. And even if he doesn’t take over as the starter, he should be able to push Lehtonen and perhaps make Kari play lights out for his job. It is definitely a low-risk, high-reward move as Enroth will be a UFA this summer and he can’t really be worse than Lindback was in Dallas.

The Bottom-Line

Ultimately, the fate of the Dallas Stars will be decided on the defensive side of the puck. Everyone knows they score, as they have scored more goals than all but one team in the NHL this season. Kari Lehtonen appears to be finding his form from last season and Jhonas Enroth gives them stability in the backup role. If they can trim the goals-against, the Stars could very well be a playoff team come April.