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On the Radar: Quick Change

by Josh Bogorad / Dallas Stars

The theme of last week for the Dallas Stars was change. They changed their lines. They changed their defensive pairs. They even changed their roster.

They waived Kevin Connauton, who was picked up by Columbus. They recalled Jyrki Jokipakka from the AHL. Then they pulled off a major trade, acquiring defenseman Jason Demers from San Jose. This, of course, was all closely off the heels of summoning John Klingberg from the AHL and moving Sergei Gonchar to Montreal in exchange for Travis Moen.

Yes, change has been everywhere. 

However, the most important and welcomed change in Dallas from last week came in their results. The Stars won two of their three games last week, giving them their first winning week since the one of October 20 - the third week of the season.

Going hand in hand, the aforementioned changes played a huge role in the Stars wins. The recently-formed top line of Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, and Tyler Seguin has been terrific. They combined for 8 goals and 15 points in three games last week. Moen has provided a nice spark with his gritty style of play, particularly in the game against Arizona. Demers had a very strong Dallas debut, playing a season-high 25:32 while also adding a highlight-reel check, sound defensive play, and the game-winning goal on a power play.

And as for John Klingberg? Well, if you've even remotely been paying attention lately, you know all about him. But just in case you haven't, or simply want a reminder, here goes. Klingberg has goals in two straight games. He has points in four straight. He had five points in three games last week, and he ranks third among ALL NHL defensemen in points per game this season. That's third out of 246, in case you're wondering. He's also averaged more than 24 minutes per game in six games since his NHL debut. 

Yet, even though the Stars have been littered with change lately, they still have been plagued by some familiar problems. The Stars went 2-1 last week, but in their loss, Dallas let another multi-goal lead slip away against Carolina. They then struggled badly in the second half of Saturday's game against Los Angeles, getting outshot 16-2 in the third period, and allowing a four-goal lead to turn into a nail biter down the stretch. There still seems to be a tendency among this team to stagger whenever momentum begins to shift to the opponent. With a stretch like the Stars have been on this season, the only way to overcome that is to go through it enough times successfully until it is no longer an issue. That's what made Saturday such an important win.

No, they never should have let a four-goal game get to that. And no, they did not look very convincing in the late stages. But a win is a win. And after sitting in the American Airlines Center locker room so many times this season having to ponder how a game had just slipped through their fingers, the win over Los Angeles offered a much-needed, different perspective. It allows the Stars to diagnose their problems, without having to deal with the devastation of a heartbreaking loss. That's another big change the Stars needed.

When the Stars were playing well for most of the night, yet not winning, they all hit a point where they agreed that it didn't matter. You couldn't be happy with anything less than a victory. And while a win can't cure everything, it can cure some things. When dealing with a problem as much about mentality and confidence as the Stars are, you need to be able to cling to something. Had Dallas lost the game on Saturday, there's nothing the cling to. As was the case in many of the tough losses so far this season.

Last week was strange. Of the three opponents they faced, the Stars lost to the team with worst record and beat the other two. They blew a game when they led 2-0 at first intermission, and then won a game where they trailed at second intermission. They scored four goals and lost, and allowed four goals and won. And they let a four-goal lead become a one-goal game.

Going into the week, the Stars talked about needing to make a stand. While it wasn't the most conventional route, perhaps they started one.

It wasn't perfect. It wasn't always pretty. And there is, without a doubt, still plenty of room for improvement. But since we're at a point where the Stars are being graded almost exclusively on results, it was a good week. It was the start of a potential turnaround. And it was a pivotal reminder that not every bend has to end with a break. Now the task is to build off of that and continue to progress. Keep doing what they are doing well, and continue to change and improve what they are not.

Entering this week the Stars have won two straight games. They host Edmonton and Minnesota to finish their homestand, before heading back on the road. Dating back to the start of the 2013-2014 season the Stars have not had a winning streak longer than three games.

There's one more thing for the Stars to change. 

The Stars play three games this week against Edmonton, Minnesota, and Colorado. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar':

First Faults

The Stars are just 4-5-2 this season when scoring the first goal of the game. Their .364 winning percentage in such games is the worst in the NHL. Remarkably, the Stars have a better record this season when allowing the first goal than they do when scoring the first goal. They are 4-4-2 when falling behind first. Protecting leads of any kind is a focal point for the Stars going forward, and they must improve that area of their game. This week they are playing a couple of other teams struggling in that department as well. The Edmonton Oilers are 4-3-1 when scoring first, and the Colorado Avalanche are an even 4-4-0. The importance of success in this category has been pretty telling so far this season. Not a single one of the ten teams with the worst winning percentage when scoring first is currently in a playoff spot.

Gaining an Advantage

On Saturday the Stars had six power play chances against the Los Angeles Kings, and converted on two of them, including once for the game-winning goal. The large number of power play opportunities was a nice change for the Stars, who had only had seven combined power plays in the prior four games. The six chances matched a season-high for Dallas. Saturday also marked just the second time in 11 November games that the Stars had more than four power play chances. Drawing penalties are often a result of speed, puck possession, and hard work - three things the Stars pride themselves on doing well. This season there has been a direct correlation between the Stars success and how often they've drawn penalties. In their 12 games when they have registered points (wins or OT/SO losses), Dallas is averaging 4 power play opportunities per game. In regulation losses, the Stars average only 2.7 per game. Last season the Stars ranked fourth in the NHL in power play opportunities, averaging more than 3.5 per game. The Stars are at their best when they are skating well. How many times they go on the man-advantage is one indication of that. As the Stars look to continue winning games, keep an eye on the number of power plays they are getting per night.

Get Defensive

There is not much guesswork in where the Stars need the most improvement. Dallas is allowing 3.38 goals against per game - the third highest average in the NHL. As they try to reduce that number, this week offers a couple of favorable matchups. Edmonton and Colorado rank among the lowest scoring teams in the NHL, averaging 2.33 and 2.43 goals per game, respectively. Those rank as the 4th and 7th least productive teams in the league. Minnesota, meanwhile, scores the 11th most goals at 2.79 per game. Furthermore, all three teams rank in the bottom six in power play efficiency. The Stars must limit their opposition if they want to be successful this season. This week is an opportunity to do just that.

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. 

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