Take three of the five highest-scoring players in the NHL. Then, add in a two-time 90-point scorer as well as a four-time 30-goal scorer to the mix.
Sounds like the makings of a pretty lethal power play, right?
The short answer is an obvious yes. The longer, and more accurate, answer stills ends up at a yes, but with the added emphasis that it doesn’t happen nearly as easily as one might think. That’s the big lesson that the Dallas Stars have been progressively learning over the past two seasons.
The Stars’ power play has been downright scary so far into the 2015-16 season, converting at an impressive clip of 26.9%, the second best success rate in the entire NHL. Led by the five-man unit of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp, the Stars have so many powerful offensive weapons that it seems like it would be almost impossible to shut down the unit as a whole
However, it wasn’t very long ago that Dallas’ power play, despite all of the individual talent involved, was much more of a weakness than a strength. After the addition of two high-profile forwards in Spezza and Ales Hemsky in the summer of 2014 the new-look group was dubbed the “Supernova” before the 2014-15 season began, apparently in spite of the knowledge that a supernova is actually a star that is at the end of its life, soon to fade away forever into the darkness. This description was awkwardly accurate for the Stars as their power play completely fizzled out of the gate and was a major issue in the season as late as January.
Dallas eventually came around on the man-advantage, and actually finished 8th in the league in terms of success rate, but by that point the damage had already been done: too many crucial games came and went where the power play was a total non-factor and ended up being a significant culprit in a loss.
Not surprisingly, the Stars made this a primary area of focus over the summer, and as outlined earlier, the results have been very positive so far. Their secret? Improve the team’s ability to breach the opposing defenses at the blueline and actually enter the zone, primarily through controlled carries while reducing the number of dump-ins.
“We wanted to come up with four or five entries,” Lindy Ruff said recently to Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News. “If we give them a different look, whether it’s a single drop, a double drop, or whether we just use our slash play, it can keep them guessing. And I think both units have done a good job with it.”
“It’s important to be ready, and we have the ability to change [the entry] at any given moment,” added Spezza. “Plus, when the stretch men are Patrick Sharp and Tyler Seguin, the other team has to pay attention to them, and that opens up a lot of options for us.”
Once the Stars are actually in the zone and set up? Yeah, good luck.
While tactics are the largest factor in the turnaround, the personnel themselves also deserve mention. Benn and Seguin continue their ascent into NHL super-stardom. Klingberg is no longer the fresh-faced rookie that he was last year, now much more comfortable in the NHL, while Spezza is continuing to find his groove in his second season in Dallas. The addition of Sharp as the last guy on the man advantage instead of Hemsky, Patrick Eaves or Cody Eakin cannot be understated, either.
Dallas currently sits atop the Western Conference with a sparkling record of 17-5, and their play on the man-advantage is one of the key reasons why. With 60 games remaining in the regular season the Stars will need to stay diligent in that area if they want remain in that spot in the standings.