Only one NHL team remains undefeated as the first month of action nears its conclusion. The Dallas Stars are off to a 4-0-0 start after amazing performances in their games. Their special teams, notably their power play, are tremendous. They started with a 7-0 walloping of the Nashville Predators on opening night, netting five power-play goals. With four gigantic wins in a critical division, they deserve to be looked at as the potential favorite to win the Central. After a delay to start their season, they wasted no time in getting started. Their strong start deserves a better look, with an emphasis on special teams.
The Special Special Teams
The Stars’ special teams were ready to go on opening night. Esa Lindell scored a shorthanded goal to cap off a five-goal second period for Dallas during the first game against the Predators.
There have only been 145 games in NHL history where a team scored five or more power-play goals. On Jan. 22, the Stars were one of those teams. Their power-play percentage is an astounding 52.6%, helping them achieve a 4-0-0 start.
To say their special teams are lethal is telling other teams not to take undisciplined penalties against them. Their combined power-play percentage of 52.6% and penalty-kill percentage of 89.5% is 142.1%, with 93-100% being considered good for special teams. Their power play through the first four games is historic and one of the reasons why they have such an amazing start.
“Alternate” Captain America Leading the Way
Although it’s only four games into the season, the Stars have five out of six of the top NHL players in terms of points-per-game. Joe Pavelski is leading the team with nine points. Upon being named temporary alternate captain after Tyler Seguin’s injury, Pavelski is proving his veteran talent. He was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week on Jan. 18, despite only playing two games up to that point.
Seven of his nine of his points came on the power play. He scored the first goal of the Stars’ season and added another on opening night. Despite only being in his second season with the team, Pavelski has more than proven that he is still a solid player. His expertise on the power play provides great offense when needed. Expect him to spend more time on the first power-play unit.
Injuries Not a Problem, for Now
Captain Jamie Benn received a lower-body injury in the first game against the Predators. He is listed day-to-day but has missed three games already. For the first time since acquiring Seguin via trade on July 4, 2013, the Stars didn’t have Benn or Seguin available in a game, but they still won these games with a plethora of injured players. The “Taxi Squad” players should see some action. Ty Dellandrea is one of the young players to watch out for, as he showed some great stride in his 18:54 of ice time in the first game against the Red Wings.
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He later scored his first career NHL goal in the second game against the Red Wings on Jan. 28. In the aforementioned list of top six points-per-game players, Roope Hintz, John Klingberg, Denis Gurianov, and Joel Kiviranta are providing offense for the Stars so they have options to replace injured players. These injuries may be a problem in maintaining their start, as mentioned below.
Can They Sustain It?
A question to ask now is whether or not the Stars can keep up such a strong start. The answer is yes in some ways. Probability says that their power play of 52.6% is near impossible to maintain. This great power play is a double-edged sword. Yes, their power play is magnificent, but they have struggled with 5-on-5 play. They only had one 5-on-5 goal in the first three games, but the offense opened up in the fourth game. They scored six even-strength goals on Jan. 28 against the Red Wings, evaporating all worries of non-special teams play in the 7-3 victory.
The Stars can keep up this great start by obviously getting more wins, but one other area as well. They have the opportunity to show what their young players can do. As previously mentioned, Dellandrea is one of those players that already saw lots of ice time. Dallas will put players like Thomas Harley, Joel Hanley, and Taylor Fedun into the lineup to prove themselves and give other players a rest. These young players are the key to maintaining the start because of how much they need to provide with all the injuries. They are having no problem showing what they can do for the team.
Goalies Are the Best Penalty Killer
Goaltenders are the most important penalty killers, and Anton Khudobin leads the NHL with a 0.99 goals-against average. The Stars will rely heavily upon the shoulders of Khudobin as primary goalie Ben Bishop will miss significant time. Anton has shown that he is more than up to the task, highlighted by his play so far this season, and the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Jake Oettinger started and won the game against the Red Wings on Jan. 28, giving Khudobin the night off.
The backup goaltenders will give Khudobin some rest, especially during the back-to-backs this season, of which the Stars have seven. Khudobin has surrendered only three goals in three games – he’s part of the reason why the penalty-kill percentage was at 91.7% before Oettinger surrendered a power-play goal in his start. Their goalies need to continue their outstanding play.
Their 4-0-0 start is great, but the Stars need to keep going. Every time another division opponent plays, someone always gets two points, with some matchups being three-point games if they head to overtime. Dallas needs to look at each regulation loss as a four-point swing – two points they don’t get, with two points that someone else gets. So far, they don’t have any losses but that can change in an instant. They need to keep their special teams momentum going. They can run the table in the Central Division if they are persistent. The tenacious power play needs to be merciless if they wish to be the best power play unit in the league, and they will look forward to maintaining their great start.