The Dallas Stars season is underway. While it hasn't been the storybook start that the Stars were hoping for following the excitement of the offseason, it's very important to keep a few things in mind. First off, the season is two games old. Without question Dallas wanted better than one of a possible four points to begin the year, but it's not as if last week buried them in an early-season hole. Secondly, the final scores have not told the whole story of the games thus far. That's not to say the Stars should be content. They shouldn't. Certainly not with Saturday's game in Nashville. But if you just look at the scores, you miss a few pertinent details.
On Thursday night the Stars dominated the Chicago Blackhawks in the season opener. This isn't an opinion. It's a fact. One even noted by the Hawks themselves. In his postgame comments, Chicago Head Coach Joel Quenneville joked that somebody should call the cops because the Hawks had stolen two points from the Stars. Dallas outshot, outchanced, outhit, and outskated the Blackhawks. But they didn't outscore them. And after going 0-for-3 in the shootout, the Stars skated off the ice on the short end of an opening night defeat.
They were unable to match that same effort on Saturday night in Nashville, and lost a 4-1 game in regulation. Despite the dip in performance and the lopsided final score, the Stars spent Saturday either tied or leading for almost 50 minutes in a 60-minute game. Still, they left Music City with nothing to show for it. Through two games, it's fair to say the Stars played one terrific game, and another that wasn't so terrific. But either way, it's still only two games worth of info.
It's common - if not mandatory - to take a look at the first impressions from a new team and try to make conclusions based on that. But win or lose, this early in the season it is imperative to remember that sample size matters. On opening night, with a sellout crowd in attendance on Thursday, it would have been an incredible win for the Stars if they could have closed the show against Chicago. But, in spite of the fact that they didn't, most people were still in agreement, based on how they played, that this Dallas team was for real. Then, they didn't look great and lost their follow up game. All of a sudden, retroactively, Thursday's game feels a lot different than it did that night. I get why that is, but it cannot be dismissed that in one of their two games thus far, they looked incredible - against a Stanley Cup favorite, no less.
Again, make no mistake, the Stars need to be better. With just three goals in two games, they need to be better at finishing. With a couple of soft goals allowed so far, they need to be better at making key saves at key times. With a couple of results that slipped away, they need to be better down the stretch. Their power play is 1-7. That has to improve. They've got among the best top-two lines of any team in the NHL, yet neither line has scored a goal yet. There is room for improvement everywhere you look. They can, and must, be better.
But early in seasons especially, things - both positive and negative - have to been given time to even out. Is it a shock that Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are both without points two games in? Without question, it is. But is it unprecedented? Absolutely not. Last year, while finishing 4th in the NHL in scoring, Seguin had two separate five-game streaks without a registering point. He also went a career-high, 12 games without a goal at one point. By the way, in case you forgot, he finished tied for 5th in NHL goal scoring. If you think the Stars big names are going to stay quiet for very long, you are in for a rude awakening. It's a long season.
However, it's also a tough one. And if nothing else, that's what the Stars were reminded of last week. Even on a night when they are at (or near) their best, nothing is a given. It won't get any easier for Dallas this week, as they stay on the road for two games against opponents who have played very well in their initial looks. Regardless, the Stars have to find a way to break through. The 0-1-1 start is not an early-season hole. But if not corrected quickly, it can become one. The Stars have to make sure it doesn't, and they have to be able to finish what they couldn't quite in their first two games.
The Stars open a three-game week on Tuesday. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as the Stars look to break into the win column for the first time this season.
Rising in the East
All three Stars games this week come against Eastern Conference opponents. Last year interconference play was surprisingly a problem for the Stars. In head-to-head meetings, Western Conference teams dominated play against the East. Aside from Dallas, the 13 other teams in the West combined for a 233-133-50 record vs. Eastern Conference opponents. That translates to a .620 winning percentage. Meanwhile, the Stars went just 13-17-2, totaling a .438 winning percentage. The Stars were the only team in the Western Conference to have a losing record last season against the Eastern Conference. This year they have to improve those numbers, and about 10% of their Eastern conference matchups for the season come in this week's games.
When dissecting why the Stars are winless through their first two games, it's hard to look past the third period. So far this season, Dallas has been outscored 4-0 in the final frame. The Stars have lead at second intermission once and been tied at second intermission once, but fell in both games. With the competition fierce in today's NHL, there are going to be a large number of games up for grabs late in regulation. That's been the case in both games thus far for the Stars. While it's certainly a small sample size, the Stars appeared to fade in both third periods last week. To be successful they need to find a way to improve their numbers, as well as their overall play, in the third period.
Fans who followed the Stars last year may remember a huge cry for secondary scoring at the beginning of the season. While Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were seemingly putting up points at will, the Stars could not get any help from their third and fourth lines for the first couple of weeks. In fact, the Stars did not receive a goal from a bottom-six forward until the eighth game of the season. This year that doesn't appear to be an issue. Two of the three Dallas goals so far have come from the third line, and we've also seen Ryan Garbutt, Shawn Horcoff, Vernon Fiddler, and Colton Sceviour all be in on odd-man rushes or breakaways that were quality scoring chances. One of the most anticipated effects of the roster moves made this summer was the ability to have scoring strength throughout all four lines. While the offense has not produced in the first pair of games at the clip most were expecting, there is reason to believe secondary scoring will not be a problem this season. Once the top-six start to find the back of the net (and rest assured it will happen much sooner than later), they should be aided by a strong secondary scoring punch behind them.
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.