The Dallas Stars played their first round-robin playoff game against the Vegas Golden Knights to determine the seeding amongst the top 4 teams in the West. The game didn’t start out well with goaltender Ben Bishop giving up a fluky goal to Chandler Stephenson on the first shot of the game.
The Stars turned the tide in the second with three unanswered goals. They looked in control heading into the 3rd when their fortunes changed and the Golden Knights answered with three unanswered goals (plus an empty-netter). So, what went well and what needs to improve if the Stars want to improve on their 4th seed ranking and go on a deep playoff run?
1. Bishop Needs to Be Better
The Stars’ strength in 2019-20 was their goaltending. Finishing just behind the Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak for the Jennings Trophy, Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin were fantastic. If the Stars expect any kind of playoff success, it will be on the backs of their netminders.
Related: Vegas Golden Knights Jersey History
That is why Bishop’s .875 save percentage was disappointing. What is worse is that the Golden Knights only had 2.89 expected goals per Evolving Hockey giving Bishop -1.11 goals saved above expected (GSAx). His regular-season GSAx was 5.7 so it is hard to imagine he will be this bad again.
That being said, Khudobin had a better GSAx this season at 6.2, so he would be a reasonable option against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, Aug. 5. On the other hand, Stars head coach Rick Bowness might want to get Bishop going by giving him consecutive starts to work on his game. Whoever plays, they cannot have a negative GSAx if the Stars hope to win the Stanley Cup.
2. Heiskanen Was Fantastic
The phenom young defenseman Heiskanen logged a team-high 23.2 minutes. He was flying all over the ice and in every situation, including 1:35 of power-play time (100%) and 33 seconds of shorthanded ice time (14%). He assisted on all three Stars’ goals, the only player with more than one point.
To succeed in the playoffs, the Stars will need their stud defenseman to have more games like this. He’s shown he can do it, now all he needs is the ice time. Along with his partner Jamie Oleksiak, they were the only Stars defensemen who had a positive shot share.
While it is great that Heiskanen can pull Oleksiak into the good range of shot share, the Stars need their other defensemen to closer to average if they want to survive beyond the first round. The Stars can’t afford to have Esa Lindell and John Klingberg be this bad and expect playoff success. It is doubtful that the Stars’ first round matchup will challenge them as much as the Golden Knights did, but it was a good wake up call and the defense, save for Heiskanen and Oleksiak need to be much better.
3. No Killer Instinct
The Stars scored all three of their goals in the second period and they looked good. They generated a decent number of scoring chances and took advantage of their power-play opportunity. In the 3rd period, they figured they were leading 3-1 and clammed up into a defensive shell as evidenced by this graph from Evolving Hockey:
That strategy is not going to work. You cannot let a hungry team like the Golden Knights pummel you with shots and expect to come out unscathed. Hopefully the Stars learn from this experience and keep driving play, which is the best way to keep the puck out of their zone.
4. Seguin’s Rust Shows
Seguin didn’t play in the exhibition game so it is understandable that he was a little rusty, but the Stars need him to be great now. Not only was he not good, but according to Charting Hockey, he was one of the team’s worst skaters comparing expected goals against per 60 minutes versus expected goals for per 60 minutes.
Seguin’s linemates Jamie Benn and Denis Gurianov weren’t much better, and their line was the worst on the team. This will be a very short playoff run if this doesn’t turn around in a hurry. Seguin and company don’t necessarily have to be the best line, though that is likely the best-case scenario, they certainly cannot be a liability.
If Benn-Seguin-Gurianov continue to perform so poorly, Dallas might not make it out of the first round. Either they need to be split up or they need to create more chances, while not giving up so many.
Next Up: Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche and St. Louis Blues played one of the most intense round-robin games thus far with Nazem Kadri scoring with .1 seconds left in the game. If the Stars hope to compete with those two clubs, they are going to need to play the whole game as they played in the 2nd period against the Golden Knights.
They have a whole period from which to drive inspiration, but they will have to shake that terrible 3rd period off and move on. The Stars went 4-0 against the Avalanche in the regular season, but playoffs are a different story. Can they match the intensity and skill of the Avalanche? It will be fun to see.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12