We’ve now seen it all from new bench boss Rick Bowness. Since he took over as head coach of the Dallas Stars, he has had a dominating win, a comeback win, an overtime loss, and now a regulation loss. Monday night, the Stars fell to the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 after taking six penalties. To start the Bowness era, the team has earned five of a possible eight points and are solidly in the Western Conference wild card race, chasing the Winnipeg Jets for third in the Central Division.
Bowness didn’t become head coach under the best circumstances. However, the Stars still have a heavy dose of expectations for the 2019-20 season.
It’s no secret that the Stars are a defensive team and Bowness is par for the course in his first four games, allowing an average of 1.25 goals per game. No team has been able to score more than two goals. That’s well below the team average of 2.29 per game for the season. In Bowness’ debut, the Stars shut out the New Jersey Devils.
Bowness helped build the Stars’ outstanding penalty kill. That’s another area they have been able to stay the course on. Despite giving up a power-play goal against the Oilers, who have the best power play in the league, the Stars have killed 13 of their last 14 penalties, an improvement over the season average of 85.7% of penalties killed.
The power play was already in the bottom tier of the NHL and, right now, things are staying that way. Coming in, Bowness was focused on improving the lackluster man advantage. Former Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal was called up from the American Hockey League to take over the power play after the staff shuffle. Since then, the team has yet to score a single power-play goal. Over the four-game stretch, the Stars have had 12 chances. This is a concern because the Stars were exorcising some demons in the final two games with Jim Montgomery, scoring on four of seven opportunities. Bowness and Laxdal have to find the answer and start making opponents pay for skating a man down.
In two of the four games, the Stars have allowed their opponents to score first. The first time, the Stars were on the road against the Nashville Predators and were able to come roaring back with four unanswered goals. However the second time, against the Oilers, the Stars were unable to rally. They need to figure out how to get their engines going early so they can dominate the defensive zone.
In his opening press conference, Bowness said that he would spend time working with the forwards. This season, the Stars rank 24th in the NHL in goals scored per game, averaging 2.6. Over the last four games, they are only averaging 2.25 goals. Their highest scoring game was against the Predators when they scored four. The most concerning game was against the Devils when they were only able to score twice. While the majority of the game can be chalked up to the coaching change, the Stars dominated the Devils in nearly every statistic. Getting the offense right is the quickest way for them to make up ground in the Central Division race.
While the Stars are still holding on to a playoff spot, their goal is a divisional spot. Moving forward, Bowness will need to find some answers for the disappointing areas.
First, Bowness has done well to keep his lines steady through the last four games. Former head coach Jim Montgomery had a reputation for frequently juggling lines. However, the third piece of the Tyler Seguin – Jamie Benn line has been shuffled multiple times. While Seguin and Benn have found the back of the net recently, finding a steady piece for that line will enhance the chemistry. Justin Dowling might be a solid answer, but since his injury he has played less frequently.
The Stars also need to start forcing the issue on the power play. Back when the power play was beginning to get in a groove, Montgomery stated that players were hanging on to the puck longer and finishing their routes. Monday night, Bowness addressed the power play in his postgame press conference: “Of course,” he said when asked if the Stars were over-passing. “We can scream and yell all we want, shoot the puck, shoot the puck, they’re (the players are) going to have to make that decision.” While the Stars have been over-passing for quite some time, Bowness says he will be harping on the players to shoot more.
Bowness, for the most part, has done well through his first four tests. The Stars are navigating a difficult part of their schedule through December and a coaching change is never easy. Maybe Jason Dickinson has the right attitude:
The Stars take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and the Calgary Flames before Christmas. Securing three strong wins could be exactly what the Stars need to get better under Bowness.