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30 in 30

Reasons for optimism, questions facing Stars

Dynamic offense still in place; defense, goaltending must improve

by Steve Hunt / Correspondent is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the biggest reasons for optimism and the biggest questions facing the Dallas Stars:

Last season, the Dallas Stars qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in the past eight seasons and won a series for the first time since 2008. 

Stars 30 in 30: Season outlook | Top prospects | Fantasy outlook

Dallas lost to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Second Round, ending with a 6-1 loss in Game 7 at American Airlines Center.

So how will things go for the Stars this season? Do they continue their progression from last season, their third under general manager Jim Nill and coach Lindy Ruff, or do they take a step back?

Video: 30 in 30: Dallas Stars 2016-17 season preview

Here are four reasons for optimism entering this season:

1. Plenty of offense

The Stars led the NHL with 265 goals last season. Top linemates Jamie Benn, second in the League with 89 points (41 goals, 48 assists), and Tyler Seguin, 10th in the NHL with 33 goals, combined for 74 goals, nearly one-third of Dallas' total.

"We're very fortunate [to have Benn and Seguin]," Nill said. "We have two of the elite players in today's game. Jamie is turning into probably one of the most complete players in the game. [Tyler] is probably one of the best goal-scorers in the game."

Center Jason Spezza was Dallas' third-leading scorer with 63 points (33 goals, 30 assists), and forward Patrick Sharp scored 20 goals in his first season with the Stars after nine-plus seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Dallas had six players with 30 or more assists last season, led by Benn and defenseman John Klingberg, who each had 48. Klingberg had 58 points last season, fifth among NHL defensemen.

2. More playoff experience

Losing a Game 7 on home ice remains a bitter experience, but Nill said he believes the experience gained should pay dividends.

"It's just part of the process," Nill said. "Until you're into a Game 7 in overtime and everything's on the line, until you understand that, you have to live it, and then you want to go back at it again."

The Stars had six players make his playoff debut, including centers Radek Faksa and Mattias Janmark, and defensemen Stephen Johns and Klingberg, who each had significant ice time.

"They've got to go through these growing pains," Nill said. "The NHL is as tight as any league in the world. It's a tough league to win in."

Video: DAL@CHI: Faksa scores on break to pad the lead

3. Home cooking

Dallas went 28-11-2 at American Airlines Center, the second-best home record in the NHL behind the Washington Capitals (29-8-4). It was a drastic improvement on the 17-16-8 record the Stars had at home in 2014-15, when they missed the playoffs.

4. Success on special teams

In Ruff's first season in Dallas (2013-14), the Stars power play converted 16.2 percent of its opportunities and the penalty kill had an 81.4 percent success rate. In 2014-15, Dallas converted 19.3 percent on the power play and killed 80.7 percent.

Last season, the Stars special teams had the fourth-best power play in the League (22.1 percent) and the 10th best penalty kill (82.3 percent).

Given their offensive firepower and Ruff's commitment to defense, the Stars could have even better numbers this season.

Here are three key questions facing the Stars:

1. Is the goaltending good enough?

The tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi was effective during the regular season, helping Dallas win the Central Division and the top seed in the Western Conference.

But the goalies struggled in the playoffs; Lehtonen played 11 games and was 6-3 with a 2.81 goals-against-average and .899 save percentage. The lasting memory of Lehtonen is allowing three goals on the first eight shots he faced in Game 7 against the Blues, the second time he was pulled in the series.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm4: Lehtonen denies Lehtera's great chance

Niemi played five playoff games and was 1-3 with a 3.29 GAA and .865 save percentage.

Nill and Ruff remain confident in their experienced goaltenders; Nill said their playoff experience gives them added motivation this season.

"Unfortunately, in the sports business and the world, everybody remembers the last act. Our last act was Game 7 against St. Louis," Nill said. "Kari had a rough game. I think that has lit a fire under Kari and Antti. They want to come out and show who they are."

2. Can the defense improve?

The Stars finished the regular season with a plus-37 goal differential, third best in the NHL. But they allowed 228 goals, the most of any team that qualified for the playoffs.

Dallas lost three of its top four defensemen from last season in terms of ice time, with only Klingberg remaining. Alex Goligoski was traded to the Arizona Coyotes on June 16, Jason Demers signed with the Florida Panthers on July 2, and Kris Russell remains an unrestricted free agent. The Stars are banking on the addition of veteran Dan Hamhuis, who signed a two-year contract reportedly worth $7.5 million (average annual value $3.75 million) on July 1, the continued development of Johns, who played well near the end of last season, and the emergence of prospects Julius Honka and Esa Lindell to help solidify this unit.

Video: Dan Hamhuis meets with the Dallas media

3. Will the kids be all right again?

Last season, Faksa, Janmark, Johns and Klingberg stepped forward. This season, the Stars expect more prospects to emerge.

Those possibilities include center Jason Dickinson, who scored in his NHL debut; forwards Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie, who combined to play 11 League games last season; and center Devin Shore, who had 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 23 games for Texas of the American Hockey League but missed half of last season after having shoulder surgery.

"We've got a lot of real good young kids coming," Nill said. "You're hoping you don't get injuries, but there's a good chance of it, and we know that we're covered if we do. I think this is a great opportunity for all these young guys."

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