Oh, how things can change in three weeks.
In the first edition of Stars weekly of the 2021 season, it was hard to do anything but laud praise on Dallas after a 4-1-1 start. Last week, there were obvious concerning signs, but the team was still in great shape after getting points in two out of three games.
Now, faced with the reality of a paltry three-game stretch against Chicago and Carolina at home that saw the team walk away with just two of a possible six points, there are major questions to answer.
Dallas had a chance to feed a completely different narrative if it could’ve won any of the three overtime games in its last four contests. Nonetheless, despite being tied for the most overtime games played with four, the Stars have failed to win one.
At 5-3-4, the Stars haven’t won a game since Feb. 2, and have captured just three of a possible ten points. Here’s a look at how each unit breaks down.
Scoring just two goals in two games against a patchwork Chicago defense is concerning- but I’ll give them a pass because of how well Blackhawks goalies Malcolm Subban and Kevin Lankinen played. Aside from those two losses in the team’s five-game slide, Dallas has put at least three goals past its opponents.
Without Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin, the Stars forward group is missing a lot of punch. Fortunately, winger Jason Robertson appears to be coming into his own- scoring his first two career National Hockey League goals in the past week. Roope Hintz has also played like an elite offensive player in the past three games, while John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen continue to impress with sky-high assist totals.
Carolina swept through Dallas’ defense like… well, a Hurricane in the midweek series, pushing across a whopping nine goals in two games. It’s not the whole story, however, as the Hurricanes simply have Dallas’ number in the early going of this season- taking all eight possible points in four matchups.
Dallas showed that its recent slide on the defensive end isn’t because of a lack of effort, however- just look at this highlight reel play from Miro Heiskanen, who basically single-handedly stopped Carolina’s try at the empty net and ultimately gave Dallas its only chance to get Saturday’s game.
Miro's play at one end, Pav's snizzy on the other
What a sequence from these two last night pic.twitter.com/FF6EDZcjt6
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) February 14, 2021
Special teams: B+
Dallas’ power play is not the problem here. Joe Pavelski’s play is showing signs of his days as an elite goal scorer with San Jose, and leads the NHL with a whopping seven goals with the man advantage. He leads an elite unit that has ranked among the league leaders since puck drop. Currently, Dallas is converting 33 percent for the fourth-best mark in the league.
Meanwhile, the Stars’ penalty kill hasn’t improved much since a week ago- still sitting at a mediocre 19th place league-wide at 78 percent.
After the strange non-story of Anton Khudobin’s absence last week, it’s been interesting to see head coach Rick Bowness start rookie Jake Oettinger in two of the last three games. Khudobin didn’t look like himself in Thursday’s loss to Carolina, allowing four goals.
Oettinger, however, has been a revelation- having now started six of Dallas’ 13 games- and allowing just 2.31 goals per game. He ranks ninth among NHL that have played at least six games in that category- and has objectively been the strongest-performing rookie net-minder.
I always struggle to assess Rick Bowness- and that’s been the case to a huge degree this season. He simply hasn’t had the team he’s supposed to be coaching due to the litany of injuries to key players.
Still, adjustments need to happen to break out of a five-game skid. They haven’t been made- at least not enough- against Carolina. So a very neutral C+ to the Stars first-year head man for his work through the first month.
Coming off a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals, very few doubted the Stars chances to contend as one of the best teams in the Central division. At this point in the season, with a few exceptionally good weeks, they haven’t lived up to the hype.
There’s still plenty of time to rectify things, and the hot start to the season has definitely given them a cushion. Thankfully, Carolina doesn’t show up on the Stars schedule for another few weeks. Taking anything less than three points against the chaotic 6-9-0 Nashville Predators is a disappointment- while even one win a home-ice set with Tampa Bay is the type of test that can truly turn a sour stretch around.
Upcoming schedule: Tuesday vs. Nashville, Thursday vs. Tampa Bay, Saturday vs. Tampa Bay.
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