Saturday night’s loss to the Minnesota Wild gave Dallas Stars fans looking for a reason to dismiss coach Rick Bowness plenty of ammunition. The Stars were outclassed in every phase of the game as the Wild cruised to a 7-0 victory. It was the first game with defenseman Miro Heiskanen missing after an injury. Most people thought losing him would be a big loss for the team, but no one speculated that there would be an immediate collapse. Before Heiskanen left the game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Stars had not allowed a team to score more than two points since before Christmas.
The staggering loss couldn’t come at a worse time for Bowness. With the All-Star break starting, it will be a while before the Stars can put the loss behind them. Disapproving fans will only have more time to groan.
Last week, when the Vegas Golden Knights fired coach Gerard Gallant, fans in Dallas started discussing whether or not a change was on the horizon. General manager Jim Nill says that that the current staff will stay in place. And while there are reasons for Bowness to finish the year, those who felt that things needed to be shaken up pointed out some key concerns.
Slow Starts & Lackluster Offense
One of the biggest talking points about the Bowness era has been the team’s slow starts. During the Stars six-game winning streak, the team had to come back to win four straight games. Two of those games, the Stars were down by multiple goals. But the comebacks extend further than the winning streak. The Stars currently lead the NHL in third-period comeback wins this season at eight.
Comebacks are great, but it is a model that is unsustainable. Bowness even commented on the issues himself after the Stars ran out of magic against the Sabres. “You’re not going to win every game coming back in this league, there’s no chance,” Bowness said. “So even though we have won eight straight coming back, we’ve got to try to avoid putting ourselves in the predicament.” Forward Tyler Seguin had similar comments saying the Stars are “flirting with fire.”
When the Stars score first the team is winning. This season their record is 18-3-2 when scoring first and 18-1-2 when maintaining that lead into the third period. The first period is where the team needs to start swinging. In the last 13 games, the Stars have been outscored in the first period 19 to seven.
Scoring has also been an additional piece of this puzzle that fans are complaining about. With Bowness coaching, the Stars seem to have a low ceiling for offensive production. Over the last 16 games, the team has scored an average of 2.68 goals per game. That average is the eighth-worst in the NHL and the fifth-worst in the Western Conference. The problem is the Stars have throttled back on offense to emphasize defense. The Stars take the 10th fewest shots in the league. As “The Great One” said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Lack of Quality Wins
Bowness has found success in Dallas, maintaining the team’s playoff position and holding a 10-5-1 He also has given the Stars their second-longest winning streak of the season. While those are quality resume points, several fans around the Dallas-Fort Worth area have pointed out the teams that those wins have come against.
Under Bowness, the Stars have only been able to win three games against teams with winning records, the Arizona Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche (overtime losses included). Compare that statistic to the number of losses to teams with a .500 or better record. The Stars under their current coach have lost four games to those opponents.
The lack of quality wins has brought the phrase ‘paper tigers’ to describe the current state of the team. What the numbers show without a doubt is that Bowness has benefited from an easier part of the schedule while he gets his feet wet as head coach. However, these numbers will continue to come up in conversation when talking about title-contending teams.
While players take some time to hang up their pads during the All-Star break, conversations will be had around the watercooler in Dallas. A change might not actually be in the cards for the Stars, but people will continue to discuss the future of Bowness at the American Airlines Center.