Thursday night, Jamie Benn let fly a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle, beating Ryan Miller high glove side and giving the Dallas Stars a win in their first overtime game of the 2015-16 season. The victory boosted the Stars’ record to 8-2-0 on the young season. They awoke Friday morning alone in the honeymoon suite that is first place in the Western Conference, albeit with five of the other six Central Division teams pounding on the door.
It’s a far cry from this time last season, when Dallas was 4-2-4 and nervously pacing the hallway in 5th place. While the 2015-16 Stars are different from last year’s model in many areas, they’re surprisingly similar in one particular aspect.
Key Stats Through Ten Games
Here’s a quick look at some key stats through the first ten games (all stats via war-on-ice.com). For each statistic, the first number listed is for the current season and the second represents Dallas’ performance through ten games last season.
- Goals For/Game Played (GF/GP): 3.50/3.10. The Stars are averaging almost half a goal per game more than last October.
- Goals Against/Game Played (GA/GP): 2.70/3.30. In addition to scoring more, Dallas is allowing .6 fewer goals per game this year.
- Corsi For Percentage (CF%): 52.8/49.9. At even strength, Dallas is generating more shot attempts than their opponents, a sign that they’re spending more time in possession of the puck and in the offensive zone.
- Save Percentage + Shooting Percentage (PDO): 99.4/100.8. This statistic is considered by many to measure “puck luck.” The average is around 100, so a number below that means either the team shooting or save percentage (or both) is below average, i.e., “unlucky.” Conversely, a PDO above 100 means the team is either scoring at an above-average rate or riding a hot goalie. The fact that Dallas had an above-average PDO through ten games last season indicates their subpar 4-2-4 start was actually a bit lucky; they probably shouldn’t have been so high in the standings. In 2015-16, the Stars are putting more shots on goal at even strength but fewer are going in, thus lowering their PDO.
- Scoring Chances For Percentage (SCF%): 51.9/47.1. In this category, Dallas has jumped from 23rd in the NHL last October to 10th this year. Simply put, they’re generating more scoring chances than their opponents, which speaks to both the Stars’ offensive talent and improved team defense.
Though these numbers all point toward a significantly improved Stars team, there is one stat which could stand improvement.
(Highway to the) Danger Zone
Celina Rae always does a fantastic job singing the Star-Spangled Banner at the AAC, but the Stars might want to consider replacing her with Kenny Loggins. Dallas is a “high event” team: Last October, the average Stars game featured 58.4 combined even-strength scoring chances, which was third-highest in the NHL. This year, that number has actually increased to 60.6, trailing only the league-leading New York Islanders. The number of High Danger Scoring Chances per 60 minutes (HSCP60) has also jumped year-over-year, from 25.1 to 26.8, while the Stars’ share of those High Danger Scoring Chances (HSCF%) has barely changed, from 49.2 to 49.3.
In simple terms, a Dallas Stars game is full of scoring chances, but their offense-oriented approach means they’re still giving opponents a lot of breakaways and good looks at the net from in close. The difference this year is goaltending. Between Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, the Stars are getting league average goaltending. Though it wouldn’t hurt, Dallas doesn’t need the Finnish tandem to be Carey Price-level outstanding; they just have to be average and occasionally make a big save at a critical moment, as Niemi did against Vancouver:
The Word You’re Searching for is “Resilient”
Resilient Stars rally again, down Canucks in OT https://t.co/Ur484zdKd9
— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) October 30, 2015
Three times in October, the Stars have trailed their opponent by two or more goals, then come back to win. Understandably, Dallas sports scribes are now using the “R” word freely. Stars winger Patrick Sharp had this to say after his two-goal night against Vancouver:
It’s all part of learning, building…You’re not going to play perfect hockey every night. You’ve got to learn to deal with the ups and downs and we’ve been doing a good job of it so far.
Jason Spezza, when asked about the team’s response to falling behind against the Canucks, offered this:
We talked about sticking with it after two periods because we didn’t want to get away from our game…They scored on the first shift [of the third period], but I think we had the wherewithal to stick with it, and that’s a good sign.
Resiliency. High Danger Scoring Chances. Exciting hockey. That’s not just haiku; that’s the Dallas Stars’ first ten games of the 2015-16 season.
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.