What’s Up with the Stars Special Teams?

The Dallas Stars as of late have been rather inconsistent and disappointing.  Dallas has gone 4-5-1 in their past ten games played and currently sit at 11-13-6 on the season.  They are out of the playoff picture as of right now and are losing critical games.  In those games, special teams have been all over the place and this leads to overall inconsistency.  They average 2.55 goals scored per game, ranking them 17th in the NHL, and allow 3.21 goals per game, second-worst in the League.

The Stars will win a game, then lose one, win another, then drop three in a row.  Over the course of those games, the Stars went just 4-for-31 on the man advantage, and 26-for-36 on the penalty kill.  Looking at percentages, that is a mere 13 percent on the power-play and a solid 72 percent on the kill.  While the power-play is obviously struggling, the penalty-killing unit is good, but upon closer examination, it can be seen that late power-play goals for the opposing team have cost the Stars some close games.

The Penalty Kill

The Stars penalty killing unit has not been horrendous, but there are several key games in which Dallas has allowed a decisive goal, causing them to lose the game.  On November 29, the Stars took on the Detroit Red Wings, a game which would end in a 3-1 loss for Dallas.

The reason why? The Wings scored two back-to-back power-play goals, giving them a lead over the Stars, which eventually led to a Red Wings full-fledged comeback, putting in another goal to erase the Stars early 1-0 lead.  Another look would be at the Calgary Flames versus Dallas game back on December 6.  Tied 1-1 heading into the final ten minutes of the third period with overtime on the horizon, the Stars took a penalty and would give up a goal on the ensuing man advantage.  The Flames would go on to contain the Stars offense and take the game by a score of 2-1.

And most recently, this past Friday against the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers.  The Stars were en route to spoiling the Flyers’seven-gamee win streak, but collapsed in the third period, letting up two straight power-play goals (three total in the game).

The Flyers gained morale and Wells Fargo Center was electric, with all the momentum going the Flyers way.  The final score: 4-2, with Philly extending its winning streak to eight games in a row.

Late Penalties Costly

A reason for their penalty killing woes may be the fact that last season’s best penalty killers — Vernon Fiddler, Jason Demers, Colton Sceviour and Alex Goligoski — are no longer part of the team due to free agency and off-season trades.  The loss of these players certainly shows itself, and the fact that the Stars have taken multiple late penalties in games costs them.  “There’s no moral victories, there’s no ‘We played good in Detroit or Pittsburgh or Philly,'” Jason Spezza told Sportsday.com.

“It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough with the type of team we have. It doesn’t matter if you play well if you don’t win games. It’s a results-oriented business, and these losses get tougher and tougher because we know we have a hole to climb out of.”  If there is to be any change on the penalty kill, it needs to come soon.  The Stars are heading into a tough week, squaring off against teams such as the Anaheim Ducks (Ranked ninth on the power-play) and the New York Rangers (Ranked sixth on the power-play).

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A Look at the Power-Play

The Stars power play has not been pretty.  Locking in at 13 percent in their past ten games played and 17 percent this season, it’s obvious there is an issue. The past ten games have seen only four man-advantage goals on 31 total attempts.  This season, the Stars have netted 19 power play tallies on a total of 109 attempts.  They rank 15th in the National Hockey League.

Their most disappointing performances in their past 10 have come at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, where they went 0-for-5, and the Philadelphia Flyers (on Friday), where they went 0-for-4.  These are just two small examples, but both resulted in losses.  Especially in a Friday’s game where the Stars held the lead at one point.  Going 0-for-4 and then allowing two straight power-play goals in the third is not ideal, and is rather frustrating.  It takes all momentum away.

“Obviously their three power-play goals were the difference,” Stars forward Devin Shore told NHL.com in regards to the meltdown in Philly.  “It’s unfortunate because it was something we talked about before the game and our scouting report was right, but you can take positives from the 5-on-5 and learn from your mistakes. They did a good job on their power play, and that was the difference.”

Another issue is shorthanded goals.  The Stars have allowed five shorthanded goals this season while on the power-play.  That ranks them at 29th place in the League, just two away from the last place Philadelphia Flyers.  Last season, they finished dead last in the NHL with 15 shorthanded goals allowed.

Possible Solutions to a Woeful Problem

The craziest part is that the Stars are armed with guys like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, as well as contributors such as Jason Spezza, Patrick Eaves and John Klingberg. Seguin (seven goals) and Benn (five goals) account for 12 of the 19 Stars season power-play goals.  Patrick Eaves has five goals on the power-play as well.  The problem is that those three players account for just about every man-advantage goal scored for the Stars.  There needs to be more contribution from the rest of the team, which unfortunately has been hard to come by due to plaguing injuries for the Stars.

Let it be noted that Jiri Hudler, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky and Johnny Oduya have all missed significant time with injury this season.  However, on Sunday, the Stars put Jiri Hudler and Johnny Oduya back in the lineup.

But either way, the power-play needs to get better.  Dallas can not afford to continue to have such inconsistency on the power-play if they plan to contend on securing a Stanley Cup Playoff spot, and perhaps the Stanley Cup.

Looking Ahead

The Stars are ranked 24th in the NHL and sixth in the Central Division.  However, there is still plenty of time for the Stars to recover — that recovery needs to come fast, though, if not right now.  There is no time to waste away points from games because of faulty special teams, or because of letting up late-game power-play goals.  The season does not get any easier for the Stars,. If anything, it will continue to become more challenging and harder.

The best thing the Stars can do is to pick up the pace through the holiday season and try to position themselves within a Playoff spot before the All-Star break.  This begins on Tuesday when the Stars host the Anaheim Ducks, marking the first game of a five-game homestand before Christmas.

“I mean, we shoot ourselves in the foot. That’s pretty much plain and simple,” Captain Jamie Benn said in an interview with Sportsday.com. “The way we’re losing is unacceptable. Once again, I don’t think our best players were our best players, and penalties kind of shot us in the (rear) again.”