Nobody said the Dallas Stars’ road to the Stanley Cup would be straight and level…or even paved, for that matter.
The Stars returned home very early Friday morning, following a less-than-successful five-game road trip. Though a 2-3-0 record kept the trip out of the ‘complete disaster’ category, bookending it with losses to division rivals Colorado and Winnipeg was not good.
The most troubling aspect of the Stars’ 5-2 loss to the Jets Thursday night was the near-total lack of preparedness to start the game. The hosts took full advantage of their seemingly-confused visitors, scoring three goals (two of which came on power plays) in a four minute span of the first period to put the game out of reach early. Coach Ken Hitchcock addressed the issue after the game.
“We just had too many passengers today,” the coach said. “We were constantly grabbing guys to see if we could get a higher level of play from them, and you saw it in our execution. Even when we got it back to 3-2, we weren’t executing at a high level…I’m not sure why we were surprised after we practiced and chatted yesterday. I’m not sure why we looked surprised and at times overwhelmed at the start.”
The Stars’ middling 7-6-0 start to the season has some fans nonplussed, to say the least, but there’s more than meets the eye to this team. Positive changes are taking place, not all of them apparent to the casual observer. A few weeks ago, Hitchcock opined that we won’t know what these Stars are going to be until game 20. Saturday will be game 14. This team is still a work in progress.
Stars in Cage Match vs. Hockey Gods
The Stars’ battle against the Hockey Gods continues. Last week, I discussed PDO as a measure of ‘puck luck.’ Here’s a StarsFunFact™ update:
At the 10-game mark, the Stars’ five-on-five PDO of 96.37 ranked 14th out of 15 Western Conference clubs and 28th overall. That’s the direct result of nearly-nonexistent secondary scoring, coupled with a rash of improbable goals against.
How improbable? Over the last six games, at least three goals deflected off Stars defenders past Ben Bishop, two more resulted from the netminder getting tangled up with a teammate, and then the Jets scored this moon shot of a goal:
All six of the aforementioned goals fall into the ‘fluke’ category. Flukes happen, but it’s unusual to see so many in such a short period of time. Despite being outscored 20-17 in those six games, the Stars posted a 3-3-0 record. Take away half of those unlucky goals and that record could be 4-1-1.
Stars Sing the Shooting Percentage Blues
A 27th-ranked five-on-five shooting percentage of 6.31 doesn’t help PDO, either. At some point, forwards not named Benn, Seguin or Radulov will start scoring. This team is far too talented not to score more. When they do, shooting percentage will rise. After all, even last season’s woeful, injury-ridden Stars shot 7.52 percent.
In what could be a sign of things to come, Mattias Janmark snapped a nine-game goal drought with an even-strength tally Thursday night. The young Swede now has points in three straight games. While still searching for his first goal of the season, Devin Shore has three points in the last four games. The goals are coming.
The Stars’ roster continues to evolve. With defenseman Stephen Johns returning from a concussion, Julius Honka was sent down to the AHL Texas Stars on October 31. He’ll get some much-needed ice time down there.
The day after Honka went down, forward Jason Dickinson was called up. One of the last preseason cuts, Dickinson made the most of his time in Cedar Park, racking up six goals in nine games. The Stars’ first-round draft pick in 2013 had a fairly quiet season debut against the Jets, registering one shot on goal and two penalty minutes in 9:57 of ice time.
Dickinson went straight into the lineup because of injuries to Martin Hanzal (lower-body) and Brett Ritchie (upper-body). The former was hurt against Calgary on October 27 and didn’t play the final 15 minutes of the third period or in overtime, while the latter played the full game against Vancouver last Tuesday, but was sent back to Dallas the next day. On Friday, Hitchcock said neither player would dress the next two games, so Dickinson will have at least a couple more chances to impress.
Last, but not least, Greg Pateryn seems to have played his way into the defensive top-six. Pateryn’s not flashy, but he’s giving the Stars almost 20 minutes of solid work each night and has only been on the ice for two goals against, despite starting the majority of shifts in the defensive zone (his Zone Start Ratio (ZSR) of 36.96 is lowest among Stars blueliners). So far, the former Michigan Wolverine has been more consistent than Jamie Oleksiak, who now finds himself the seventh defenseman in a six-man rotation. (Stats courtesy of corsica.hockey)
Jets forward Mark Scheifele registered a hat trick against the Stars Thursday. That was the second time this season an opposing player has done that to the Stars (Avalanche forward Matt Nieto scored three on October 24).
Three teams have allowed more than one hat trick this season: the Stars, Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Stars have been the most competitive in hat trick games, losing 5-3 and 5-2. The Habs lost 6-1 and 5-1 in their hat trick games, while the reigning Stanley Cup champs got slaughtered, 10-1 and 7-1. In 2017-18, teams scoring a hat trick are 14-1-0, with an average margin of victory of 3.71 goals.
The Karjala Cup Tournament takes place in Europe November 8-12. Six nations are participating, but the United States isn’t one of them. Several former and future Stars are playing, including Derek Roy, Jyrki “Kevin” Jokipakka, Valeri Nichushkin and Miro Heiskanen. This is a tournament to keep an eye on, as many Olympic roster decisions will be made there. Playing in the Olympics is a tremendous honor and a rare opportunity, so here’s hoping Big Val and Mid-size Miro earn a trip to South Korea next week.
Quote of the Week
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” –Theodore Roosevelt
Matt blogged about all things hockey at On Goal Analysis/The OGA Blogs from 2008-2014 and has written several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News. He began covering the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers in August 2015. Matt is also writing a biography of “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers and the Madison Square Garden Corporation.