When this year's Dallas Stars roster was being built, there was one thing that was almost universally agreed upon. This team can score. Through eight games - or roughly 10 percent of the schedule - the Stars have proven that they can indeed find the back of the net. The Stars have scored 28 goals through 8 games, averaging 3.5 per game to rank third in the NHL. The Stars have been led by their big-three of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Jason Spezza. All three are in the top-13 of NHL scorers, with Seguin leading everyone with 13 points. Since they were moved to the same line at second intermission of the game in Pittsburgh, the trio has combined for 26 points in 13 periods.
Without question the Stars can score. They have scored. They will continue to score. In fact, it is worth noting that Ales Hemsky, Colton Sceviour, Valeri Nichushkin (who has been injured), and every defensemen not named Trevor Daley have all yet to score a goal this season. It is only a matter of time before they break out. But even without their production, the Stars are already among the most offensively powerful teams in the league.
It is that scoring ability that has enabled the Stars work their way through some early-season adjustments, while not sacrificing a decent spot in the standings. To see just what a difference the offense has made, you simply need to look back to last season's start.
In the first eight games of this season, the Stars have allowed 28 goals. That is a number the Stars need to improve going forward, and it ranks them as the third-most, scored-against team in the league. But it's also the exact same number of goals they allowed through eight games last season. This year the Stars penalty kill has struggled, killing only 77.8%. That's right on par with where they were last year, through eight games when they had killed 78.1%. Last year the Stars had to overcome a couple of injuries, and they struggled badly when Kari Lehtonen wasn't in net, allowing about four and a half goals per game.
Yet, for all the similarities, there is one huge difference from last season to this season.
Last year, through eight games, the Stars were 3-5, a points percentage of .375. This year Dallas is 4-2-2, a .625 points percentage. That disparity can be traced back to the offense. While the Stars offense has scored 28 goals this year, they were limited to just 19 last year. That's a difference of more than a goal per game. For the most part, the Stars offense has been able to mask some inefficiencies. Soft goals, defensive breakdowns, sloppy periods. They've all made cameos in the first two weeks of the season. Sometimes more than a couple. But by and large, the offense has been good enough to still get points in light of those mistakes.
The Stars remain a growing team, trying to improve on several areas of their game. Having an offense that can bail you out from time to time is an incredible weapon for a group that (like it or not) is going to make mistakes and have a few ugly nights on the defensive end. But as nice as it can be, the Stars cannot rely solely on their offense to carry the load night in and night out. They learned that lesson first-hand on Saturday in Long Island. And, unfortunately for the Stars, it wasn't the first time this season that lesson had been taught.
The Stars have scored five or more goals in three of their last four games. That's a stat that any team in the NHL would love to have. Yet, remarkably, they only won one of those three.
To really dissect how the Stars are playing, you can't simply look at goals against. Things like shots, puck possession, and scoring chances tell the story, as well. Additionally, great or subpar goaltending can often times twist the perception of a final score. For example, the Stars actually played better team defense in the 7-5 loss to the New York Islanders, than they did in the 6-3 win over Vancouver. Even still, there were many key defensive breakdowns on Saturday that need to be cleaned up. It has become evident that the loss of Patrik Nemeth is a huge one for Dallas, and three of the seven current active defensemen have played fewer than 45 career NHL games. A learning curve can be expected. But the young defensemen, veterans, and five-man units have to limit quality chances against better than they have.
Along those lines, there is good news for the Stars. Lindy Ruff called the two games in New Jersey and New York much better than the ones before the road trip. If you don't look at the goals allowed, and instead look at the chances, the Stars gave the Devils very little after a rough, opening ten minutes on Friday. Then in Long Island, even with their breakdowns, on another night with even marginally better goaltending, Dallas likely leaves the Nassau Coliseum with something to show for their efforts.
The Stars have a lot to be happy about one-tenth into the season. They have a winning record. They have points in three-quarters of their games. They are unbeaten in regulation when their #1 goaltender starts. They have players getting healthier and closer to coming back to the lineup. And they have an offense that looks like it can, and will, explode on an almost nightly basis.
They also have the luxury of not having to climb out of an early-season hole in a very tough division and conference. That's not something they had last season when their offense slumped out of the gate. They've made it through the first couple of weeks looking good in the standings, while ironing out some wrinkles. Now, the focus is on completing the rest of their game.
Dallas has shown how dangerous they can be on the attack. Their offense is a weapon that few teams possess, and few can contain. But, as they've already learned, it will not be enough on its own. The Stars know who they are offensively. They are exactly what they hoped to be. Now, they must redefine their identity at the other end of the rink. And it's that identity that may wind up deciding the fate of this team.
Another three-game week for the Stars begins at home on Tuesday. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as the Stars finish up the month of October and enter November.
Eight the Hard Way
Head Coach Lindy Ruff joked early this season that he could not find an easy game on the schedule. At least so far, it looks like he was absolutely right. Not counting their results against Dallas, the eight Stars opponents have gone a combined 32-16-7 in their games against the rest of the NHL. That is a combined .645 points percentage. As a basis of comparison, that percentage would rank as the eighth highest so far this season. Removing their results vs. Dallas, seven of the eight teams have winning records. Once you factor in the quality of opposition the Stars have played so far, it makes Dallas' 4-2-2 mark and .625 points percentage even more impressive. The road this week is not any easier, as Dallas takes on St. Louis, Anaheim, and Minnesota who have combined for a 14-7-1 record.
The Stars top defensive pair of Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski have picked up right where they left off late last season. Daley and Goligoski are 11th and 13th in the NHL in average time on ice per game. They average 25:13 and 24:48, respectively through the first eight games. They are one of just three pairs of teammates in the NHL to both average that much ice time this season. (Shea Weber & Roman Josi in Nashville and Keith Yandle & Oliver Ekman-Larsson in Arizona are the others.) Daley and Goligoski also have six points each, tied for 12th in scoring among NHL defensemen. They, far and away, pace the Stars in blue line scoring, combining for 12 points on the season. The other six defensemen who have skated for Dallas this season have combined for four total points thus far.
On Friday night, the Anaheim Ducks visit Dallas for the first meeting between the teams since the Ducks ended the Stars season in Game 6 of last year's opening round playoff series. In addition to bringing a handful of subplots dating back to April with them, the Ducks will also travel with one of the best teams in the NHL. The Ducks are 7-2 this season, having a seven-game winning streak snapped by San Jose on Sunday. The Ducks have been dominant most nights, holding their opponent to one or zero goals in five of their nine games this season. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry each have 12 points - one behind Seguin's NHL lead. Offseason acquisition Ryan Kesler has settled in nicely with 7 points (3g, 4a) in 9 games with Anaheim. Second year netminder, Frederik Andersen has been brilliant, posting a 6-1 record, 1.69 GAA and .940 save percentage. He enters this week 26-5 in his NHL regular season career, but was chased from the net at American Airlines Center in both Games 4 and 6 last year vs. Dallas. Last season's playoff meeting was a back-and-forth affair, featuring multiple verbal and literal jabs throughout the six games. The Stars and Ducks meet three times this season, with two of those coming in Dallas. The next game between the two teams won't be until March 1, when the Ducks come back to the AAC. The Stars lone trip to Anaheim is for the second to last game of the season, on April 8.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.