The Dallas Stars are in an interesting position. They are nine points behind the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division with six games in hand. That doesn’t sound too bad, but they have also struggled to consistently play their game through the first half of the season. They rank in the top five with the fewest goals against and shots against per game, yet they have only nine wins in 24 games.
The penalty kill, which usually helps them win games, has dropped to 17th in the league and has been hurting the team lately. The Stars have struggled to get shots on goal and have had even more issues converting on their chances. They have also gone from a top faceoff team to barely scratching 50%. With all of this said, they have found ways to outplay teams at 5-on-5 and have deserved to win a lot more games than they have.
After all of the negatives, they are only nine points out of a playoff spot with a lot of games left to play. Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin are still expected to return in early April after offseason surgery. Their return will have an immediate impact on the team, but here’s a look at what they bring and why the Stars’ playoff hopes will greatly increase.
Seguin and the Stars’ Offense
The Stars’ main trouble in the last two seasons (excluding their explosion in the 2020 Playoffs) has been scoring. This season, they rank in the middle of the league in goals for per game at 2.83. The scary part is that a few games have helped drive that average up. Without those few surges, of seven or six goals, their consistent number is much lower and a more accurate outlook on the team. Mainly, this is because of the team’s lack of shots per game, averaging only 29 shots per game this season.
Seguin’s return marks the return of the team’s leading scorer and their leader in shots. He has been in the top two in scoring every season since arriving in Dallas. He has scored 30 goals in five of those seven seasons and has added seven playoff goals. He also averages nearly four shots per game which the Stars desperately need.
In a season when Denis Gurianov went 15 games without a goal, Roope Hintz has been in and out of the lineup with an injury, Alexander Radulov has missed the last month due to injury, and the depth lines have not produced much, Seguin’s return will have a massive impact on the team’s ability to put the puck in the net.
Bishop, Seguin and the Stars’ Defense
Ben Bishop is a top goaltender in the NHL when healthy. He has consistently kept his goals-against average below 2.50 and has maintained a save percentage higher than .916 in all three seasons in Dallas. He has the ability to stand on his head for his team and has done so many times in his career; just watch the 2019 Playoff series vs the St. Louis Blues if you need proof.
Anton Khudobin did a fantastic job filling in for Bishop in last year’s playoffs but has struggled this season. Rookie goalie Jake Oettinger has exceeded expectations but is still learning at 22 years old. Bishop’s return will bring stability and consistency to the position, as he has been known to play very well when returning from an injury. It will also allow the Stars to have options heading into the final stretch, with three NHL-caliber goaltenders on their roster, a situation that many teams would love to be in.
Seguin also adds a lot to the team defensively. Early in his career, he was a scoring machine but struggled at the other end of the rink. In a very similar situation to Mike Modano in 1999, Seguin knew he had to adopt a different style if he wanted to bring his team more consistent success. With the help of Jim Nill and the coaching staff, Seguin has become one of the better two-way forwards in the league.
“Honestly, I’d go into a game where, maybe I had an assist and six shots on net, and that was a good game to me. The mental side now, understanding more what it takes to win, a good game to me is looking at my faceoff percentage, how many goals against I was on for, how many goals for I was on for, what our power play is looking like, different things I wasn’t looking at before that now I understand,” Seguin said.
He averages 19:41 of ice time and plays in all important situations. Not only does he have the ability to win key faceoffs in the defensive zone, but his commitment to his defensive game is evident in his blocked shots and takeaways as well. He has also begun to see time on the penalty kill, which shows that he has the full trust of his coaches.
The ability to effectively break out of the defensive zone is significantly increased with a goalie who can play the puck. The Stars have one of the best in Bishop and will look forward to improving that part of their game with him in the lineup.
His ability to control the puck around the boards and make smart decisions has not only led to many easy breakouts that burn the opposition’s forecheck, but it can also lead to odd-man rushes the other way. Bishop has the ability to make passes all around the ice and has five assists for the Stars.
One very obvious trend this season is the Stars’ faceoff losses. The team has a 50.1% success rate, which means they are chasing the game a lot more than they want to. Seguin has led the team in faceoff percentage over the last four seasons and is 53% in his NHL career.
If the Stars can start with the puck more often, they will be able to increase their shot totals, which should lead to more scoring. An improved faceoff percentage will also help their special teams play.
Along with superstar skill, Bishop and Seguin also bring a combined 1,154 NHL games of experience, which pays dividends on a team with so many rookies and young players. Both veterans have played in multiple Stanley Cup Finals and know how to deal with the increased pressure of the late season.
The Stars need to win a large percentage of their remaining games to make the playoffs, and having these two back in the lineup alongside veterans Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, Blake Comeau, Andrew Cogliano, Anton Khudobin, Andrej Sekera, Mark Pysyk, and Alexander Radulov could be the difference in making another run or missing the playoffs entirely.
Remain In The Fight
The Stars have missed Bishop and Seguin immensely this season. It is no coincidence that the team has struggled in the areas that these players specialize in. The key for the Stars is to keep improving and remain close enough in the standings that the return of their superstars is enough to propel them into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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!