The Dallas Stars have wrapped up their first five games on a positive note, as they defeated the Florida Panthers on Saturday night to move to 4-1-0 in their first five. One thing hasn’t changed from last season, this team can still score goals. They have yet to score less than three in a game this season and have put up four or more three times. The Stars are still a work in progress and far from perfect, but there is a lot to be excited about early on. Here are some observations from the first week and a half of the season.
Lehtonen Coming Up Big
It was well documented all offseason long, Lehtonen’s struggles may have cost the Stars a playoff spot last year. Dallas brought in Antti Niemi to put pressure on Lehtonen and hopefully provide a safety-net should Lehtonen falter. Other than a period and a half in Colorado, both goaltenders have performed well with Lehtonen looking more like himself. His statistics page doesn’t jump out at you and he isn’t shutting teams out, but he is doing two big things that he struggled to do last season. He is coming up with important saves at key moments in the game and he is not allowing soft goals in low-danger areas. He has yet to allow a low-danger shot get past him and five of the seven goals he has given up would be considered high-danger shots. For the Stars to be true playoff contenders, they will need Lehtonen to build on his early success.
Newcomers Still Finding Their Footing
The Stars are expecting big things from new additions Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya but they understand that it isn’t going to come right away. Last season, it took awhile for Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to get going and it appears to be happening with Sharp and Oduya as well. Sharp has two assists through five games while Oduya has yet to register a point. That is not to say they have played poorly by any means, they just don’t look quite comfortable yet and for the Stars, that is O.K. They are doing other things on the ice that are important for the team’s success.
Both players are positive on the possession meter with Sharp posting an early corsi-for-% of 54.61 and Oduya putting up a 52.17 CF% at even strength. Sharp leads the team in takeaways and Oduya is third on the team in blocked shots. While the offense from Sharp hasn’t come quite yet, he is getting his chances and is third on the team in scoring chances. As long as they keep playing smart hockey, the production will come for Sharp and Oduya.
Staying Patient with Val Nichushkin
I know it is still way too early to tell, but the many people (including myself) predicting Val Nichushkin to have a breakout season should show some patience with him at this moment. He certainly has the capabilities to still post a solid season but it is quite clear he still has a lot of progress to make. He hasn’t been a bad player thus far in the season, he just hasn’t looked like much of an offensive threat so far. Although he has only played in three games, he has been one of the better possession players on the team. However, the production and scoring chances have not been there.
Nichushkin has yet to score a point and has registered just five scoring chances on the season. Before playing in Florida on Saturday night, Nichushkin had been scratched for two straight games. He was scratched at times in his rookie season and it seemed to provide a big boost for the young Russian. He played well against Florida and gave Stars fans a lot of hope that Nichushkin will end up having a great season. The Stars are showing patience with him, the fans should as well. His time will come.
Opponents Still Have No Answer for the Dynamic Duo
It is just an expectation at this point that Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn will get on the score sheet every night. They each have eight points on the season which is tied for second in the NHL and they factored into all four goals on Saturday night against the Panthers. They are two of the top-four players on the Stars in terms of even strength corsi-for-% and are the top-two players on the team in high-danger-scoring-chances-%.
No matter who the opponent is, these two seem to always find a way to get at least a point. With Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky and Cody Eakin producing at a solid rate this season as well, opponents don’t always have the luxury to just load up their best defenses against Benn and Seguin. Even if they do, the duo seems to find a way into the net anyway. They will likely factor heavily into the Art Ross race again this season.
All of the things above will be things to monitor as the season moves forward. Expectations are high for this team and they are likely growing after a strong start to the season. We’ll see if they are up to the challenge.