We are just past the quarter point of the 2020-21 NHL season, and things have not gone to plan for the Dallas Stars. Many believed they would need the best-case scenario in order to have another successful year coming off of their Stanley Cup Final loss last season. They have not received that at this point, but here is a look at what they need to happen in order to make the playoffs and have a chance to make a run.
Scorers Have to Score
This idea seems simple enough, but it has not been for the Stars this season. Jamie Benn and Roope Hintz have four goals in the 12 games that they have played. Benn was held off the scoresheet for six straight games before Thursday night in Florida while Roope is without a multi-point night since game two of the season. The goal-scoring leader from last season, Denis Gurianov, has four goals in 16 games played and has not scored since Feb. 2.
Add to that that the dynamic duo on the backend, Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg have combined for only three goals, and you can see why the Stars have had trouble winning games. Joe Pavelski seems to be the only Stars player who continues to find the back of the net, which the team hopes can continue. However, if a few or all of these players do not find a way to score more consistently, the Stars will be struggling to win low-scoring games all season which is not a good recipe for making the playoffs.
Anton Khudobin shocked the world last season in the playoff bubble in Edmonton. Putting up excellent numbers and leading his team to the Stanley Cup final was far more than what was expected out of the 34-year old backup. After his team scored their way to a 4-0-0 start, Khudobin has struggled. His numbers have dropped and he seems to both give up relatively easy goals while not making the clutch save when his team needs it most.
After remarkable back-to-back games versus the Panthers in which he stopped 94 of 96 shots including a 43 save shutout, many thought that he was back to form. In the next game vs the Lighting though, he gave up a few easy goals again on the way to a 5-0 loss with a lousy .688 save percentage. With Bishop being out until April, Khudobin needs to find his stride again, and fast.
Every team is hit with injuries every season, it is a part of hockey. However, from the Stanley Cup Final until now, the Stars have been hit harder than most teams in the league. Benn missed four games right after opening night, Hintz has missed four games coming in and out of the lineup, Joel Kiviranta missed eight games after an injury in practice, Blake Comeau missed the first four games of the season, and Alexander Radulov has been out for the last eight games and will not play for at least another week.
That is not only a lot of names that are missing chunks of the season, but those are the big names. Losing these players has hurt their scoring, energy on the ice, and their checking game. With how condensed their schedule will be going forward, the Stars not only need some luck, they also are going to need very smart coaching. Players will have to be given games off or play a lesser role in certain situations. You simply cannot play your big names as much as you want to when playing every other night for the rest of the season.
There is no doubt that the Stars miss Tyler Seguin and Bishop. Both players have not played this season and will not return until April recovering from off-season surgeries. Seguin is not only one of the Stars’ best scorers, but he leads the team in shots, excels on the faceoff dot, and is a huge part of their power play. Meanwhile, Bishop, when healthy which feels like it’s been years for Stars fans, is a Vezina finalist goaltender.
As tough as it will be coming back so late in the season, both of these players need to find a way to get into their old form quickly. The Stars cannot afford to have anything less than superstar play out of both of these guys come playoff time.
Miro the Hero
Heiskanen burst onto the scene in his first two seasons with the Stars and really showed what he can do in the national spotlight of last year’s playoffs. Many predicted him to be a Norris Trophy finalist as early as this season and said that he is the best player on the Stars roster. So far this season, he has not been either. He is by no means playing poorly, but what makes him special is that when playing well, he always finds a way to make a difference in the game. Whether it is a coast-to-coast rush, an incredibly smart defensive play, or finding ways to get on the scoresheet, he stands out during each and every game.
Right now, he is still looking for his first goal while sitting at a minus-5 rating on the season. If you watch him closely in games, he does not seem to have the same confidence or tenacity on the ice as what we became so accustomed to during last season. His skating has still found him some scoring chances but he has not been able to convert. In order for the Stars to have any chance of both making the playoffs and making a run, he needs to find a way to make a bigger difference on a nightly basis. Maybe his first goal will open the floodgates, we will see.
That sounds like a lot that needs to happen for the Stars, and it is. However, these are all things that have happened in the past couple of seasons which pushed them into the later rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are currently in a dog fight for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central and are falling far behind the leaders. There are plenty of games left this season, but they need to stop the bleeding right now because they are running out of time.
Sam Nestler is a 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 NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!