The Stars have a bad habit to kick.
No, they don't pick their nose or bite their ﬁngernails, or combine those two practices (eeyuk!)
Their bad habit is a propensity to have vulcanized rubber litter their goal net.
An 82 game intervention is needed.
They have to kick this nasty habit of allowing 220-plus goals.
Two-Hundred and Twenty...Plus. That's how many have sailed past their goalies in each of the past seven seasons (I prorated the 48 game Lockout-shortened 2012-13 season). And in six of those seven they have been resigned to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs from a lawn chair, or a beach blanket, or a 19th hole.
The Penalty Kill is part of this. It hasn't ﬁnished with a top 10 percentage in any of the seven seasons. Four times it ranked in the bottom third of the league. (Quality Razornote: the last four times the Stars made it at least to the Western Conference Final the PK ranked 2nd, 6th, 1st, and 2nd in the regular season)
Whether at even strength, down a man, or in a Shootout, keeping pucks out of their net has to be priority number one. And that is the message GM Jim Nill, Lindy Ruff and the hockey department are sending.
Lord knows they can score goals at the other end - coal bins full of goals, second most on the circuit last season. And they boast the top individual scorer in the league in newly minted Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn. They can score. (Razortruth: Their circus attack is awesome to witness) But it's the prevention of goals that is keeping them from being a one-hundred point team again. And triple-digit points get you comfortably into the post-season instead of perpetually scrapping for 8th.
So is it the goaltending?
This past season it most certainly was culpable. And the backup role has been especially troubling - a void, or a black hole, if you will.
Has the makeup of the defense corp been the root of the problem?
Maybe it played a role. Certainly in some previous years it was, but the stable of prospects and youthful talent led by the sensational John Klingberg seems to suggest that will be a thing of the past. Now they add from Chicago a double-Cup defender in Johnny Oduya and the manly potential of 6-4 235lb Stephen Johns. All of a sudden you can see a nice combination of puck-moving mobility, hockey sense, and size evolving within the organizations deep group of rearguards. (Razornote: They'll keep 8 of them with the big club)
Has an overly-aggressive attack mentality been the culprit?
At times perhaps, especially early last season, when it seemed that the focus was over-weighted on the "lets score goals, lots and lots of goals" side of the equation and not enough value was put on prevention. That said, look at the last half of the 2013-14 season and the ﬁnal ﬁfty or so games this past year. In most of those games Lindy Ruff's team-D and and the squads efforts to "play the right way" were pretty friggin' spot on. (Razormaxim: Four men attack...Five men get back)
Were new systems and the messy business of bedding-in new players to blame for the wobbly starts?
For sure it had to have an impact.
Whatever the ill has been they need to go forward having ﬁgured out how to incorporate the attention to defensive details in the ﬁrst few months out of training camp. Otherwise, they'll ﬁnd themselves in late November trying to put smoke back in the cigarette again (Razornote: That's pretty hard to do. Try it). If they start well defensively instead of forcing themselves to out-score immaturity or a cavalier approach to goal prevention then "playing the right way" will become habitual, defending will be a strong component of their DNA - maybe their strongest, and they'll do a wack of winning because of it.
When I was with the Oiler organization back in the 'lets traumatize goalies' eighties, Slats and the coaches would pretty much let Gretzky and Co. run amuck for about three quarters of the season. Then it was time to buckle-down and pay some more attention to defense. They knew that winning when it mattered meant sacriﬁcing what they desire right now (exotic offense) for what they ultimately wanted (the Stanley Cup). Shutting opposing teams down had to become the pleasure, not the pain. That formula, and the lessons learned from the dynasty NYI and others, led to 5 Cups in 7 years.
That was a different time of course. A time void of parity.
Today that last quarter-season of 'attention to detail' has expanded to encompass all four quarters of the regular season because the sobering reality is that every team can beat every other team on any night.
Details are everything.
The modern playoffs start in October.
The Stars stellar potential and their commitment on the defensive side of the puck has to start then too.
I'm willing to bet that this team has learned a valuable (and painful) lesson: That to be a playoff team while residing in the stingy Central Division they ﬁrst have to become a frustratingly difﬁcult team to score on.
That mentality, sacriﬁce and execution must start Opening Night.
And Opening Night is nigh.