When the Dallas Stars were at their best, making a run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, their defense played a huge part. After struggling to produce from the backend during the regular season, Rick Bowness implemented a new style in training camp ahead of the Edmonton bubble. From there, the defense became much more involved in the offense, joining the attack and racking up the goals and points. Last season, that trend continued. In 2021-22, however, it has significantly faded.
Stars Offense From Defense Fading Away
During 2020-21, Dallas ranked near the top of the league again, with their defense scoring 32 goals. This season, they have dropped in that category, ranking 25th in the league as of today with only 11 goals from their blue line. When you compare that to the Colorado Avalanche (37), it is clear why this team struggles to score, especially on the road.
“We’re implementing new things,” Rick Bowness said. “When we see a game like tonight [Jan. 15], we saw some things that we have to work on. It’s about getting our defense more involved. We score goals when our defense is getting 10-15 shots a game. 5-6 shots, we don’t score any goals. When we see things, we work on them.”
Stars Key Defensemen Not Scoring
When looking into the Stars defensemen scoring struggles, you do not need to look far to find the issue. Miro Heiskanen has four goals but none in his last 22 games. Ryan Suter has three goals but has not scored in 19 games. Finally, John Klingberg has only one goal all season long, coming against the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 18.
While each player has had success in the assist category this season, Dallas desperately needs them to start finding the back of the net. For the rest of the defense, Esa Lindell has two goals, Jani Hakanpaa has one, and Andrej Sekera, Joel Hanley, and Thomas Harley have zero.
When you break it down, you can argue that there are excuses for a couple of these players. For Klingberg, this season has been filled with the distraction of contract negotiations, especially as of late with the rumors heating up around his future with the team. While he has tallied 16 assists, he has not looked like the same player this season.
“It’s what I have to do,” Klingberg said about focusing on his play during contract negotiations. “Contract’s up after this year. I have to play good. I have to prove myself. Business-side, it is what it is. Hockey-side, I have to go out there, I’m a Dallas Star. I’m going to keep going out there, play my best game and help this team win. It’s just a business.”
As for Suter, he is still adjusting to a new city and a new team after spending the last nine seasons with the Minnesota Wild. At 36 years old, he was given a chance when the Stars signed him to a four-year deal last summer. While he is still playing huge minutes and has been relatively sound defensively, his offense was a huge part of that signing. Unfortunately, all of his goal-scoring came within a six-game span in November, with the rest of the season filled with droughts of 10 and 19 games on either side.
“Every day that goes by, you feel more comfortable,” Suter said. “You get used to things system-wise, players, you just feel more at home. I’m looking forward to good things in the second half, for sure.”
When it comes to Heiskanen, things get a bit foggy. The 22-year-old got off to a blazing start, scoring 16 points in the first 20 games of the 2021-22 season. On opening night, he scored the overtime game-winner on a beautiful shot at Madison Square Garden. After those first 20 games, his name was being tossed into the Norris Trophy conversations, and rightfully so.
However, since then, he has only one goal and five assists in 14 games. Over that span, he has been a minus-4 player and has not had nearly as large of an impact on the game. If you have watched the young defenseman since he began his career, you have come to expect him to drop your jaw on multiple occasions every single night. It was not always a huge play, but his simple skills to get the puck out of the zone or strip it off an opponent’s stick were among the best in the league. Since his early success this season, that seems to be missing along with his offense.
As we have said repeatedly over the past few weeks, it is time to turn things around for the Dallas Stars. They currently sit out of a playoff spot, have one of the best records at home, and one of the worst on the road. If this team is going to make the playoffs, they need their defense to start chipping in on the offensive end. That, along with some more compete, should drastically improve their road record, killing two birds with one stone.
Sam Nestler is a credentialed 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 Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!