After a strong 2015-16 NHL campaign, where they finished first in the Western Conference and came within one game of the Western Conference Finals, the Dallas Stars have seen some major regression. Why?
The Dallas Stars are off to a pitiful start to the 2016-17 NHL season. They currently sit at 24th in the NHL, second to last in their division, with a record of 10-11-6 through 27 games. At this point last year the Stars were 20-4-1 and were one of the NHL’s top teams. So what gives? What has caused the Stars fall from grace?
There are five main factors behind the Stars’ fall and they are as follows: Goaltending, mediocre defending, injuries, top players not performing, and bad luck.
To put it lightly, the Stars’ goaltending has been poor. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are both 33 years old, and their play shows it. The pair have a combined goals against average (GAA) of 3.22 and a combined save percentage (SV%) of .893%, which places the Stars last in the league in both categories. But don’t think that Niemi and Lehtonen were especially good last season. The pair had a combined GAA of 2.78 and a combined SV% of .904%, placing them at 12th and 23rd in the league in each respective category. Not only have the two goaltenders regressed significantly, but at 33, it’s likely that they see even further regression in the near future.
The pair has also had difficulties stopping shots from certain areas. Niemi surprisingly doesn’t seem to have trouble stopping the ones that come from most dangerous areas, while Lehtonen’s woes come in all areas. Visualized on the chart below, you can see that the high danger areas, in green, are the slot and low slot. The medium danger areas, in red, are the high slot, right and left high slot, right and left slot, and the c-point (red). The low danger
area, in yellow, is every other part of the ice. Niemi has been good at stopping the high danger shots, slotting in at 16th with a .842 high danger save percentage (HDSV%). Lehtonen is a little worse at stopping the high danger shots, ranking at 35th of 53 goaltenders with a HDSV% of .790, leaving something to be desired. Niemi struggles the most with medium danger shots. He currently sits at sixth worst in the league with a medium danger save percentage (MDSV%) of .898%. Lehtonen fares much better in this department, sitting at 17th in the league with a MDSV% of .9375. While Lehtonen hasn’t had much difficulty with stopping shots from medium danger areas, his struggle is with shots from the low danger areas. Lehtonen ranks 31st of 53 goalies in low danger save percentage (LDSV%) sporting a .9769 LDSV%. Niemi has been much better in this department, ranking at 14th with a LDSV% of .9865%.
While the Stars’ goaltending has been poor, their defensemen haven’t been doing them any favours. The Stars currently sit in the bottom half of the league in shots against per game (SA/G), averaging 30.1 shots against each and every game. Nearly 23% (7 shots) of those shots against each game come from high danger scoring areas, good for 13th worst in the league; this puts them again in the bottom half. Stars defensemen also have very poor possession stats, with only Dan Hamhuis and Julias Honka (who has only played in eight games this season) having a positive corsi for percentage (CF%). Even then, Hamhuis and Honka have been given more favourable zone starts than the rest of the Stars’ definsive corps, starting 32.8% and 40.4% of their shifts in the offensive zone. Every other Stars defenseman has started less than 30% of their shifts in the offensive zone. The Stars’ defense has been mediocre, and losing their second and third best possession Dmen, Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski, certainly didn’t help.
Top Players Not Performing
The defensemen and goaltenders aren’t the only ones that haven’t been performing this season. Many of the Stars’ stars haven’t been stepping up this season (say that five times fast!). Top players such as Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp haven’t been meeting expectations. With only four goals and 11 points in 20 games, Spezza has seen a 24% drop in goals per game (GPG) and a 29% drop off in points per game (PPG). Sharp currently has one goal and one point in 11 games, showing a 17% drop in GPG and a significant 54% drop in PPG. Although they’ve been hampered by injury, both players are falling short of what was expected of them. Superstar Jamie Benn and former All-Star John Klingberg are also having down seasons offensively. While their production has not been bad by any means, it’s also not what we’ve come to expect from such players. Benn has put forth seven goals and 21 points in 27 games, resulting in a 24% drop in GPG and a 30% drop off in PPG from last year. Klingberg has registered two goals and 12 points in 25 games, a drop off of 5% and 28% in GPG and PPG respectively. If the Stars are going to return to the top of the West, they’re going to need their top players to return to last season’s form.
The Stars have had an injury plagued start to the season, losing key players for stretches of games, such as Jason Spezza with a lower body injury (LBI), Patrick Sharp with a concussion, Ales Hemsky with a groin injury, Jiri Hudler with an undisclosed illness, Cody Eakin with a knee injury, and Johnny Oduya with an LBI. While Spezza and Oduya were only forced to miss a few games, the Stars have been forced to play without key contributors such as Hemsky, Eakin, Sharp, and Hudler for most of the season. Between the four of them, they combined for 65 goals and 175 points last season. Losing these players to injury has been a major hindrance to the Stars, and they’re going to need them to be healthy and at their best if they want to get back into the playoff picture.
As is the case with almost any poor start to a season, a portion of the blame can be attributed to bad luck. The Stars currently have a very poor PDO. PDO is the sum of a team’s shooting percentage and save percentage, and it is regarded as a way to determine how lucky a team is. Teams are expected to have around a 1.00 PDO since each shot results in either a goal or a save. This means that teams that are significantly over a 1.00 PDO are likely overperforming, and teams that are significantly under a 1.00 PDO are likely underperforming. With their combined .893% SV% and .084 shooting percentage (S%) the Stars currently have a .977 PDO, good for second to last in the NHL. Tyler Seguin, Benn, Spezza, and Sharp, among others, are shooting well below their career S%, contributing to the Star’s PDO.
How Can They Fix It?
There are a lot of things contributing to the Stars’ fall from grace; some of them are fixable, and some of them aren’t. On one hand, the Stars could see some improvement when their key players return from injury. Luck needs to turn into their favour, but in my opinion that won’t be enough for the Stars to return to being Cup contenders. If the Stars truly want to have a hope of winning a Cup at year’s end, they’re going to have to be very active at this year’s trade deadline. They’ll need to shore up their defense and add a starting calibre goaltender. But that’s easier said than done. The Stars are fairly cap strapped and would need to move one or both of their current goaltenders to bring 0n another, which may prove to be very difficult. The team needs to take a long look at their roster this offseason rather than making moves at the deadline if they want to remain competitive in the years ahead.
Chris Carnovale is the “Carnovale Files” columnist for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow him on twitter @Chris_Carnovale