Following a win over the Panthers that left three players injured, the Stars have struggled to make an impact that will push them ahead in the standings. Since that fateful game, Dallas has won one of their last five, and given up 23 goals against.
As the Stars lost top-6 forwards, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Eaves, and Ales Hemsky to injury, fans and critics were sure that the team’s chances of making the playoffs were dead. After a 4-1 loss to Colorado, Dallas stunned in St. Louis, getting a divisional win and playing a smart, tough defensive game. Since that win, Dallas struggled mightily, continuing the negative trends that have kept them out of playoff position all season.
Third Period Meltdown
At home, the Stars struggle continuously. Returning to the American Airlines Center on Thursday night, Dallas let San Jose take the 3-0 lead to the second intermission. In the third period, Dallas almost made a comeback, scoring two goals before allowing two empty netters in the final minutes of the game.
On Saturday, the Stars squandered a two-goal lead early in the third period. With a 6-5 lead late in the game, an uncalled instance of goaltender interference led Dallas and Detroit to overtime where the Stars lost the battle 7-6.
For some reason, the Stars can’t close the flood gates early in the third. After opening scoring in the second period against the Wild on Sunday, the Stars returned to allow the tie goal less than two minutes into the third period, just as they did the previous night. Dallas has now squandered two-goal leads in 12 games this season, the worst retention in the league.
Razor Reaugh depicted the Stars’ third period stats over the last two games better than anyone else has:
“All told, 13 goals were surrendered in 120 minutes of hockey on successive nights in the throes of a playoff race…11 of them in the third periods and the 36 seconds of an overtime. ELEVEN.
That isn’t stumbling in the clutch, that is getting overrun like Stormlands at the hands of House Lannister in Game of Thrones. (Hot pop reference)”
What we know is that the Stars are statistically one of the worst third period teams in the league, ahead of the Devils, Coyotes, and Sabres. THW Stars Contributor, Jordan Dix, points out that the Stars are 12th in the league in Corsi For Percentage (CF%) during the third period. This means that they’re getting shots off in the third, and they have decent possession numbers, but they’re not converting.
Not only are the Stars not scoring goals, but they’re leaking goals against at a high rate in the third period. Dallas is currently 23rd in the league in win percentage when leading after two periods. They’ve only won 77.8% of games when they have a lead going into the third.
Additionally, Dallas sits at the bottom of the league for wins when outshooting the opponent. Perhaps the Stars have good possession numbers late in the game, but statistically, this hasn’t helped them. So far, the Stars have scored a total of 49 third period goals across all games, and have allowed a whopping 72 goals against in the third. Dallas is in bad company here as the third worst team in third period goals against, ranking higher than only Buffalo and Arizona.
Compared to their company at the bottom, the Stars actually allowed a lower differential of shots overall. While the Stars possess an overall shot differential of -14, Edmonton’s is currently -115, Arizona’s is -152, and Buffalo’s is -721.
Weary Defensive Play
Looking at offensive zone starts, faceoff wins, and CF% in the third period, the Stars appear to dominate. So what changes during that second intermission to cause the third period meltdown? The answer lies somewhere between the Stars’ inability to convert, and a weary (or lazy) defensive play on the part of all players.
The Stars’ play grows sloppy as the game wears on. Missed passes and rookie mistakes in the defensive zone (especially in the slot) contribute to the high number of goals against. The forwards are just as responsible as the defensemen. For instance, the forwards are turning the puck over in the offensive zone at a higher rate per 60 minutes than the defensemen in the defensive zone.
Just look at this example from the game against the Wild on Sunday night. We know that the Stars were playing on the second night of a back to back. They hemorrhaged goals after this play occurred. Just from the old eyeball test, we see four Stars players around the net, allowing Veilleux to outplay their goaltender from his knees. No stats can help a team with a play like this. It’s just poor positioning.
There are so many things wrong with this picture. Not only are four Dallas players clustered around their own net, leaving multiple Wild players uncovered in the defensive zone, but it appears they’re all looking for the puck when Stephane Veilleux finds it. At 00:04 into the video, two forwards and one defensive player are covering three Wild high in the defensive zone. Seconds later, all five Stars rush to the low slot to defend against two Wild when the Stars failed to clear the crease following Jhonas Enroth’s rebound. In the replay, Erik Cole dodges Enroth to let him control the crease. Just as the puck lies near Enroth’s pad, Cole fishes for it with his stick while other Stars look on helplessly. They played the puck instead of the body in a crucial moment.
In summary, this play is indicative of the Stars’ third period woes. Their passes and positioning grow sloppy over the course of the game, and the offense is as guilty as the defense. They fail to make the correct defensive play when it’s needed and leave their goaltenders out to dry. The three ensuing Wild goals occurred due to a number of mistakes as the Stars took penalties, allowed breakaways, and couldn’t maintain control of the puck deep in the defensive zone. The Stars may have a high CF% in the third period, but the quality of their turnovers and their inability to use positioning to recover from mistakes is egregious.
The Bigger Picture in Goal
The Stars’ struggles in goal are consistent between players. Goaltenders aren’t making the easy save. They’re playing very small instead of playing big. The goalies aren’t getting square to the post. Every goalie who comes to Dallas develops similar weaknesses, begging fans to look at the bigger picture. Are the Stars struggling due to ineffective goaltender coaching?
Granted, looking back on replays from the games against Detroit and Minnesota, the Stars allow opposing players to screen their goalies. Detroit’s first goal less than minute into the third frame is a goal that should never occur. The Stars left Jakub Kindl wide open in the high slot. Jordie Benn fails to move Drew Miller, screening Kari Lehtonen with both bodies. Less than two minutes into the third, Kindl is left uncovered again, this time charging to the gaping backdoor where he scores the tie goal.
There’s no doubt that Dallas has struggled in the goaltending department. Any goalie would struggle with Lehtonen’s workload and consistently inconsistent backup goaltending. Enroth, however, made some great saves through the first two periods against the Wild. The defense has simply not provided him with necessary support.
Stars Are On the Line at NHL Trade Deadline
There’s no way to predict what Jim Nill is going to do as the trade deadline approaches on Monday. All we know is that something has to change. Maybe the puzzle pieces just don’t fit. Will a new one help the others click?
It’s easy to expect something big on the horizon because Jim Nill goes out in style. With the Stars’ playoff hopes slim, they need defensive players who will benefit the team in October. While Nill stocked the farm system well during the 2014 draft, Dallas’ current defensive core has struggled since the Nieuwendyk era. We will see soon enough if Dallas can find a better fit. For now, fans will have to watch the Stars’ highs and lows through their fingers, and maybe take this time to enjoy the game without the playoff strings attached.