The quarter mark in the NHL has come and gone with the last bite of turkey and pie on American Thanksgiving. To this point, the Dallas Stars have played 22 games in what has been a wild script so far in 2021-22. Through the first 22 games, we have seen two completely different Stars teams.
The team that began the year struggled to score, could not defend, had no special teams, and lost more games than they won. That team held a 4-6-2 record that had them swimming at the bottom of the division standings. However, since the calendar turned to mid-November and now December, that team has evaporated in favor of one that is doing all of the right things, has won seven straight games and nine of their last ten, and is comfortably flirting with the top three spots in the Central.
Here is a look at what went right and what went wrong during the tale of two seasons.
Stars Season Number 1: Oct. 13-Nov. 13
Right: Joe Pavelski & Miro Heiskanen
Although it took a few games for him to get going, Joe Pavelski has been nearly a point-per-game player since late October. While the offense was dry overall for Dallas, he found a way to make a difference, tallying a point in seven straight games moving into November.
Miro Heiskanen has been at his best throughout the 2021-22 season. He recorded three multi-point games and 12 points over the first 12 games, effectively cementing his name in the Norris-Trophy discussion.
Wrong: Goal Scoring & Top Players
Overall, the Stars’ goal-scoring issues were at the forefront once again. Dallas scored a total of 26 goals in the first 12 games, averaging just over two goals per game. A large reason for this dry spell was the lack of production from the Stars’ top players. Roope Hintz did not score a single goal in the first ten games, Jason Robertson took some time adjusting after missing time with an injury, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov were quiet, and John Klingberg was still struggling to find chemistry with Ryan Suter.
If it weren’t for some timely goals from depth players, the Stars record could have been significantly worse.
An expected strength proved to be just that as Dallas received excellent goaltending from newcomer Braden Holtby early on. Although Anton Khudobin mostly struggled, Holtby made up for it, producing elite numbers and giving the Stars a chance to win on most nights.
Wrong: Special Teams
Dallas began the season in the worst way when it came to their special teams. Through the first three games, they were 1-10 on the power play and had just allowed the Ottawa Senators to score twice on just three powerplay chances during a 3-2 loss in Ottawa. This trend continued throughout the first month of the season as both special teams units looked completely out of sync.
Stars Season Number 2: Nov. 13-Dec. 8
Right: Top Line of Hintz, Robertson, and Pavelski & Scoring The First Goal
If there is one factor that kickstarted the Stars’ success this season, it is the re-emergence of their top line. After struggling to find chemistry early on, Hintz, Pavelski, and Robertson have been unstoppable, racking up 20 goals and 18 assists over the last 10 games. Robertson has found his game with 13 points, Pavelski has added to his team lead with 12 points and Hintz has scored nearly every night, recording 10 goals and three assists over that span.
This trio also single-handedly set an NHL record last week, helping Dallas become the first team to score a goal in the first 70 seconds of four consecutive games. Dallas has scored first in six of the seven games on their current winning streak and in 11 of their 12 wins all season.
Wrong: Depth Scoring
Unfortunately for the Stars, the rest of their lineup has not seen the same progress as their top line. Many of the top players that struggled early on have continued to do so while the team has been winning. Looking at the season total through 22 games, Tyler Seguin has 10 points, Alexander Radulov has just one goal, Denis Gurianov has eight points, and Joel Kiviranta and John Klingberg are still searching for their first goal.
Each player has shown glimmers of production and skill but none of them have found consistency at this point in the season.
Right: Power Play Success
When looking at the success of the Stars’ power play a season ago, it is no surprise that they find themselves back near the top of the league once again. After the early adjustment period, Dallas has used two highly-skilled units to push them to the fifth-best power play in the NHL. The skill is plentiful on these units and both have had success during the current run which saw them score power-play goals in 10 of 11 games.
Wrong: Penalty Kill
The other side of special teams has not been so lucky. Although the Stars have killed off 15 straight power-play chances over the last seven games, their penalty kill remains middle of the pack at 81%. Things are clearly trending in the right direction but this remains a focal point for a very defensive-minded team.
Right: How About Those Goalies?
The goalie play has actually gotten better in the second half of the season. After Holtby was ruled out with an injury and Khudobin became ill, the Stars called on youngster Jake Oettinger to step in. Since then, Oettinger has a 5-0-0 record and league-leading .951 save percentage and 1.41 goals-against average.
On top of that, Holtby has returned from injury and put up nearly identical numbers since. While there are many questions surrounding the future of the Stars goaltending, it stands as their best position at this point in the season.
Right: Jamie Benn at Center
Last season, Jamie Benn was moved to center due to the large number of injuries facing the Stars. The result was a more motivated, dangerous, and confident player that controlled the game for large amounts of time. After some failed tests and position changes early in the season, Benn has refound that success down the middle of the ice. The captain has had his fingerprints all over the current winning streak for the Stars, both offensively with seven points in the last nine games, and defensively as his line has shown up physically all over the ice.
As we saw in the 2020 playoffs, the success of this team largely depends on the contribution of their captain. The Stars will only go as far as Benn will take them and right now, he is taking them to the right places.
Right: Stingy Defense & Goal Scoring
Over the current streak of success, the Stars have returned to their defensive-minded ways, sort of. They have found their defensive game, frustrating opponents while allowing two or fewer goals in nine of their last ten games. The difference from previous Stars teams, however, is that they have also scored three or more goals at that same pace. With the defense and goaltending playing at its best and the offense finding ways to get to three goals, this team has become one of the most dangerous in the NHL over the last month.
The tale of two seasons continues as the Stars embark on a three-game road trip up the west coast beginning on Wednesday. This trip will be a big test for a team that has gotten used to home cooking over the last month of the season.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!