Sep 24, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Dallas Stars center Colton Sceviour (22) is congratulated for his goals following the game by left wing Ray Whitney (13) and defenseman Brenden Dillon (4) and right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) and right wing Chris Mueller (18) in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center. The Stars defeated the Avalanche 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

To Make the Playoffs, the Dallas Stars need to...

 

The start of the NHL regular season is so close, you can count the days on your fingers. There was plenty of offseason hype surrounding the Stars starting with new front office personnel, a new logo, new uniforms, and new faces on the roster. The Stars organization is at the forefront of making changes to set a new tone in Dallas. For the first time in a long time, expectations are high. Tom Gaglardi and Jim Nill are preaching hope, and with them both leading the way, there’s the promise of a brighter future.

Sep 24, 2013; Denver, CO, USA;Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) is congratulated for his second period goal by center Tyler Seguin (91) against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Newly appointed Captain Jamie Benn still leads the team as the face of the franchise. However, the landscape around Benn has completely changed. Most notably, Center Tyler Seguin was added to the roster early this summer in a blockbuster deal that shipped Loui Eriksson to Boston. Seguin, along with the myriad of young talent on the Stars roster, have a lot to prove and a chip on their shoulders entering the 2013-2014 season.

Earlier this week, Craig Custance of ESPN.com drew up the Future Power Rankings of every NHL team. The Stars ranked No. 7 while all six teams ranked ahead of Dallas made the post-season in 2013 (five of which won a Stanley Cup at least once in the last seven seasons).

Additionally, ESPN and Hockey Prospectus ran their calculations and projected the Stars to finish No. 4 in the Western Conference, No. 3 in the Central Division (behind Chicago and St. Louis), and No. 11 overall in the league.

It’s not just Stars fans who have a new found hope in this young hockey team. The NHL is looking at Dallas wondering if the Stars can become a contender once again.

With that, the so-called “bright future” has to show signs of progress this season. The Stars, once comfortably atop the Western Conference standings for many years, have found themselves in low times missing the playoffs each of the last five seasons. Make no mistake, this is the season of change. This is the season the Stars finally breakthrough with their young talent and grab one of the eight playoff spots in the West. The future is what Nill and Gaglardi are building towards, but the road they have promised and preached this offseason has to start with a playoff berth this upcoming season.

What’s exactly holding the Stars back? They’ve been in the mix recently, with several seasons coming down to the final week of the year. Why can’t they get over the hump? Other than personnel, what key changes do the Stars need to make from last season to finally see playoff hockey?

Backup Goaltending

Kari Lehtonen was solid as usual. Without Lehtonen in net, the Stars weren’t even part of the conversation in 2013. For a great deal of last season, he did his best brick wall imitation and was pretty damn successful in doing so.

Sep 20, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Dan Ellis (30) in the second period against the Florida Panthers

To quote Stars commentator Daryl Reaugh, “Goalie Stats are like bikinis; they show a lot, but not everything.” You would think Kari Lehtonen was a great goaltender in 2013. And you would be right. But why then would the Stars rank 6th worst in the NHL in Goals Against per Game (2.94)?

Lehtonen’s stat for the same category; 2.66. However, the backups, Richard Bachman and Christopher Nilstorp, held a 3.25 and a 3.09 Goals Against per Game. Kari needs to be just as solid as he’s been in recent seasons, but when he gets a night off, or worse, if he gets injured, Dan Ellis needs to step it up just a little bit more than Backman and Nilstorp did.

Stay Out of the Box

The Stars were near the middle of the league at 17th in Penalty Kill Percentage. Yet, the problem lies with how many penalties Dallas had to kill. The Stars were 7th worst in the league in Power-Play Goals allowed and 6th worst in the league in Penalty Minutes.

Quite simply, the Stars take more penalties than most of the league and in turn, give up too many power-play goals. No matter how basic it sounds or how obvious it is, Dallas can’t win games if they spend too much time in the box.

Capitalize on Power-Play Opportunities

What’s amazing is that Dallas had no problem lighting the lamp last season ranking 11th in the NHL in Goals. At even strength, they did well. On the power-play, well that’s a different story.

Astoundingly, the Stars had the 4th most Power-Play Opportunities in the NHL last season and they couldn’t capitalize when given the chance. Dallas was 18th in the league in Power-Play Percentage and 13th in the league in Power-Play Goals. If the Stars can bring those numbers up to match their even strength percentage, Dallas will be a playoff team.

Losing Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline last season crippled the already hurting power-play unit, but with the addition of Tyler Seguin, the loss of Jagr is more than compensated for. Though Jagr led the team in power-play goals, Jagr’s East-West style of play just didn’t mesh with Benn’s style. Seguin and Benn should find better chemistry and will look good playing on the same line for years to come, especially on the power-play.

While short-lived at the end of last season, Ray Whitney and Alex Chiasson found fantastic chemistry on and off the power-play before Chiasson missed the last few games of the season with an injury. It’s hard to believe Whitney and Chiasson can continue where they left off, but if they can, it’ll make for one of the more productive and surprising duos this season.

Streaking


Will Ferrell in Old School; that’s how the Stars felt when they won six of seven after the trade deadline and jumped back into the playoff race. However, like Will Ferrell in Old School, streaking overall was a bad thing for the Stars in 2013. In only 48 games, the Stars had four losing streaks of three or more games (two of which were four games, and one of which lasted five games to end the regular season). Compare that to the only two winning streaks of three or more, and it turns into a negative equation.

It’s not just that the Stars went on season defining losing streaks, but the games they lost in those streaks were no contests (4-1 to Detroit, 4-0 to Nashville, 8-1 to Chicago, and 4-0 to Anaheim just to name a few).

Sep 20, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff behind the bench in the third period against the Florida Panthers

When the Stars won, the Stars looked relaxed and were one of the more fun teams to watch. Then again, when the Stars lost, they lost in an unfashionable manner. They had low to no energy or fight. In some cases, they appeared unprepared and unmotivated to play.

With Lindy Ruff as the new coach, I think that mentality will change and change fast. He has a way of getting the most out of his players, and has already showed that in the preseason. Not to knock on former coach Glen Gulutzan, but the Stars under Lindy Ruff will show fight every time they suit up unlike last year.

With the new faces and new leaders on this team, this is the season the Stars start their move back to the top of the Western Conference. If this team wants to make its first playoff appearance since 2008, they’ll need to be more consistent in net, swing the power-play momentum in their favor, and need to avoid momentum changing losing streaks.

If they can do that, this team is playoff bound. However, if the Stars can’t make the post-season in 2013-2014, how certain are we a bright future even exists? The climb has to start now.

 

Tags: Dallas Stars Jamie Benn Jim Nill Playoffs Projections Tom Gaglardi Tyler Seguin

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