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Stars still working to become more effective goal-scoring unit

Offense is on the upswing, but Bowness wants to see more consistency at even strength and executing the game plan

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

FRISCO, Texas -- The Stars have been a much better offensive team since the All-Star break -- one of their stated goals coming out of the eight-day hiatus -- averaging 3.3 goals per game.

That's impressive when you consider they entered the break 28th in scoring at 2.47 goals per game. Increasing your goal production by almost 30 percent is something to be admired, even if it is over a fairly short stretch.

But how do the Stars go about establishing themselves as a more effective goal-scoring unit -- be it on paper or on the ice? That question could provide some insight into exactly where this team is going.

"We're working on it," Stars captain Jamie Benn said with a bit of chuckle. "It's been the debate all season, and I do think we're doing some things better. But, in the end, good offense for us comes through playing good defense first, and I think we're still working on that."

Interim coach Rick Bowness agrees. Yes, the goal-scoring numbers are up, he said, but some of that has been in overtime or because the power play is clicking, and he would love it if the team was more consistent in even-strength hockey and in executing the game plan on a nightly basis.

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"We're doing better in overall goal scoring, but I'm not happy with our defensive play," Bowness said Tuesday. "We're not as sharp defensively as we were earlier, and I don't want to lose the commitment that we had back then. I think if you're looking for analytics and performance, the Carolina game is what we're looking for. We played great team defense, and that allowed us to create double the scoring chances that they created. That's what we want to do."

Bowness admits that the level of play from the competition, the level of energy from his own team because of the schedule, and the level of execution by the players all figure into the outcome -- but he added that striving to play that kind of game is what the Stars need to do every night.

The Stars in that 4-1 win on Feb. 11 had a 36-25 advantage in shots on goal, a 64-52 advantage in shot attempts, and they easily doubled up the Hurricanes in quality scoring chances. They won the battle of faceoffs, 40-28, won the battle of hits, 23-13, an drew four power plays while giving just one to Carolina. Now, the Hurricanes didn't play their best game and Dallas was coming off two days rest, so you can always find mitigating circumstances, but it is a game plan that Bowness and his coaching staff feel they can replicate.

"We've had a few games like that, and we know we can do it more," Bowness said.

The Stars as a team have stressed creating offense from defense for the past two seasons, and it definitely is becoming a mantra within the team. While they are allowing more shots on goal than they get (30.5 to 31.8), they rank sixth in high-danger scoring chances for, according to Natural Stat Trick with 545. They rank 10th in fewest high-danger chances against at 484 and they rank fifth in high-danger percentage at 52.96.

 

[MAILBAG: Stars could use scoring help, but at what cost? Mike Heika gives his take]

 

Bottom line, the Stars know how to keep shots to the outside and counterpunch.

"If we play our game, and if we frustrate teams, then we can make them make mistakes and take advantage," Benn said. "When we get our chances, we've got to bear down and take advantage of them."

And that brings up another key stat: Dallas is 28th in the NHL in shooting percentage at 7.01 percent. So, is that a product of "the system?" Is that simply a slump for some key players? Or is it a concern that the players are not being put in situations that they can take advantage of?

Tyler Seguin is at 6.6 percent after connecting on 9.9 percent of his shots on goal last season. John Klingberg is at 4.3 percent after hitting at 6.5 percent last season. Pretty much every Stars player is down at least a point or two.

"In theory, it balances out," said forward Jason Dickinson. "But it's complicated because where are the shots coming from? Are they outside the dots? Are they on a breakaway? Obviously, we want to score more."

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One of the best things about the Stars this season is you do see more breakaways or odd-man rushes. The counterattack leads to great scoring chances, but then it's up to the players to convert those chances.

"We do video and we practice, but at some point, if a player gets a great chance, we're just trusting them to score," said Bowness. "Players are very good about looking at their shifts and understanding that they could have done something different. They definitely want to score."

Yet, not at the cost of losing a game.

"Brad Richards always said that the numbers will even out over an 82-game season, and that's probably true," Benn said when asked about shooting percentage. "But, at the same time, if we're playing well defensively and we're winning games, that's the No. 1 goal.

"We don't want to start chasing goals if it's going to make us worse defensively."

 

Stars (34-19-6) vs. Coyotes (30-24-8)

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. CT

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

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Join the Stars for Hockey Is For Everyone Night when they return home to take on the Arizona Coyotes at American Airlines Center on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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