No need to hit the panic button yet.
After all, the Dallas Stars – more specifically, rookie goaltender Jake Oettinger – held the Chicago Blackhawks to just two goals in 120 minutes of regulation hockey this past Sunday and Tuesday. Unfortunately, the Stars managed to find the back of the net only twice themselves. The result was a pair of 2-1 home losses to Chicago – both decided via 3-on-3 overtime.
It was an incredibly disappointing way to kick off an eight-game homestand for the Stars, who were unbeaten and outscoring opponents, 19-6, at home prior to the two-game set with the Blackhawks.
However, since that 4-0 start, Dallas’ record is 1-2-3. It has only been outscored by its opponents, 19-15, during that six-game stretch, which includes a shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on top of the two OT losses to Chicago.
“Give their goalie credit. When you have three breakaways you hope to hit one, but (Chicago goalie Kevin Lankinen) made some big saves. We missed a couple open nets, and that’s the difference right there.”
Dallas coach Rick Bowness, on the Stars’ loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night, during his post-game press conference on NHL.com.
Giving kudos to Lankinen is fine. After all, the Blackhawks rookie netminder is off to a red-hot start, winning five of his first six career starts with a 2.17 goals against average (GAA) and a .933 save percentage (SV%). But that doesn’t explain what happened two nights prior against Malcolm Subban, a career backup who’s on his third team in the last five years.
The two goalies, with less than a full season of combined career starts between the two of them, combined to turn aside 64 of 66 shots against the reigning Western Conference champions.
“We’re just not doing enough to win games. I thought we played pretty good as the game wore on. … But in a short season like this, we have to find a way to win games.”
Dallas forward Andrew Cogliano, discussing the Stars’ offensive woes over the last two games during his post-game media availability on NHL.com Tuesday night.
Keys to the House
While the panic button is still safely under glass – for now – the Carolina Hurricanes (7-3-0) will storm into Dallas for a Thursday/Saturday doubleheader. That doesn’t leave much time for the Stars to right the ship. Instead, Dallas is hoping it can open the floodgates on the fly against a Carolina squad that’s surrendered 17 goals in its last four games.
One way to generate more goals will be to get more shots from inside the house (i.e. an imaginary pentagon-shaped area that extends across the slot, down to the face-off dots and narrows to a point in the center of the goalmouth).
In their two games against the Blackhawks, the Stars managed just 25 total shots from inside the house. Instead, they settled for perimeter shots from the outside hashmarks and blue line that failed to create many second-chance opportunities (Jamie Benn’s goal that was called back for goalie interference, notwithstanding).
The Stars managed only 11 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., back on Jan. 30. They were much better against the ‘Canes the next night, putting 3 of their 29 shots behind Carolina goalie James Reimer (all from inside the house) before falling in a shootout, 4-3.
Dallas’ power play got off to a historic start this season, but a dependency on the man advantage to consistently spark the Stars’ offense has failed to ignite over the past three games. Since Roope Hintz’s power-play goal early in the second period against Columbus on Feb. 4, the Stars have failed to score in their last seven PP opportunities after going 14-for-33 to start the season.
The reality is that a power play is going to run hot and cold throughout the season.
Again, there’s no need to press the panic button or call for assistant coach Todd Nelson, who works with the Stars’ special teams, to be immediately fired.
The spotlight instead needs to be turned to Dallas’ game at even strength. Through Tuesday’s games, only the Buffalo Sabres (15 goals) have scored fewer goals at 5-on-5 than the Stars (16).
A big reason for that is a lack of sustained offense and putting shots on goal. The Stars rank near the bottom of the league in average shots per game at 26.8, a stat that makes even less sense when you consider they rank in the top 10 for average goals per game at 3.40. There’s certainly something to be said for quality over quantity, but it’s a safe bet that’s a ratio that will fall faster than a GameStop stock as games get more tight-checking.
The 5-on-5 defense, led by Esa Lindell (plus-eight), John Klingberg, and Miro Heiskanen (7 points), has also been critical at keeping the Stars in games. Not only have they provided some offensive punch when called upon, but they’ve held the opposition to the second-fewest even-strength goals (12) in the NHL through 10 games.
The Stars’ net-front presence, power play and even-strength games will be tested against the Hurricanes, who boast one of the Discover Central Division’s biggest and best defensive corps, a solid penalty kill and rank sixth in 5-on-5 goals against.
If the Stars are able to weather the storm, they’ll find themselves back in the early playoff hunt. If they don’t, it might just be time to lift the cover off that panic button.