I posted this to my Tumblr blog yesterday with the intention of pasting it to here today. Little did I know the Stars would prove me right in their game last night by giving up 44 shots and 4 power play goals!
At the time of this entry being written, the Dallas Stars are currently tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning 0-0. There are also a perfect 4-0 on the season, which begs the question, “Are they really this good?”
Now, I obviously don’t mean that I wonder if they will go undefeated through the entire season, but rather is this an indication of a team that could win their division, that could make noise in the playoffs? Let’s take a look at each facet of the game and see how they have reached that record and if they are, in fact, a contender.
Offense: The Stars are currently on fire. They rank fourth in the league in offense at 3.5 goals per game. Both Brendan Morrow and Loui Eriksson have four goals through the first four games and Brad Richards leads the team with nine points. Now, it isn’t realistic to think either Morrow or Eriksson are going to score at that rate, nor is Richards going to average over two points per game. However, these three players are accounting for 2/3 of the team’s goals and one has to believe that not only will they slip in production, but the supplemental scorers (Jamie Benn, James Neal, et al) will offset the normalization of the other three players’ production.
Defense: This is an area of concern. The Stars defense has yielded 146 shots against in only four games. That’s an average of 36.5 per game. No team that even made the playoffs last season gave up that many shots per game, let alone a team considered a “contender.” This is an area of concern given the relative health of the blueline, leaving injury off the list of excuses for such poor performance.
Special Teams: Another area of concern. The power play ranks 18th in the league at a 13.3% efficiency rating, producing only two goals in four games. While this speaks well to their ability to continue their offensive success, the Stars need to improve their game with the man advantage. Performing even worse is the penalty kill at a 70% efficiency rating, good for 28th in the league. The Stars have been dreadful on the penalty kill. No surprising, as if they cannot keep the shots against down at even strength, I can’t imagine they would do much better short a man.
Goaltending: Behind that porous defense has been Kari Lehtonen. Often criticized for his poor conditioning, Lehtonen reportedly came to camp in the best shape of his career and it appears to have paid off. Despite facing such a barrage of shots against, his save percentage is a stellar 93.2%. To put that into perspective, Tuuka Rask led the NHL with a 93.1% last season. It is safe to say, Kari is a main reason for the Stars perfect record thus far.
Coaching: Marc Crawford is veteran coach that knows his way around an NHL rink. His teams have had mixed success at the NHL level and sometimes seems to rely on the talent level of his team rather than a terrific system. That could fail him as he may not be able to “right the ship” defensively and improve on those shots against numbers. Also, his coaching prowess will be greatly defined by his ability to improve the special teams’ play.
So far, one would have to say things have gone the Stars’ way through four games. With their penalty kill at 70% and yielding 36.5 shots per game, one would not guess this to be an undefeated club. It makes perfect sense that of the four wins so far this season, two have come by shootout with another in overtime.
Unless the coaching staff can fix the defensive issues and poor penalty kill, I see this 4-0 start as nothing more than a fluke and the Dallas Stars on the outside looking in come playoff time.