It’s been an unfortunate and uninspiring start to the 2019-20 season for the Dallas Stars. And while it’s still early and there is plenty of time to bounce back, there is plenty for the team to assess and fix if they want to cut the skid entirely.
The old saying goes that all streaks are meant to be broken. And while many use that saying to focus on positive ends to negative skids, it can easily be forgotten that the saying is all-encompassing and involves both good and bad streaks. The Dallas Stars learned that the hard way on Sunday in Detroit.
After taking an early 2-0 lead against the Red Wings and starting the game on a blazing pace, Dallas hit another wall for the third time in the early going of their 2019-20 regular season. Anthony Mantha took a hammer to the Stars’ hopes as he scored four goals for Detroit and helped lift his team to a 4-3 comeback victory.
And while the Stars received a heroic effort from Roope Hintz, who scored two goals, and Tyler Seguin, who had the first goal of his 2019-20 campaign, it wasn’t enough. Mantha scored the game-winner with less than a minute remaining in regulation and left the Stars stunned and frustrated as they left Michigan with yet another loss.
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It was the third consecutive defeat for the Dallas Stars in the first four days of the regular season and shifted them to 0-3-0 on the year. That’s the worst start to any regular season for the team since they moved to Dallas and hasn’t been accomplished by the franchise since 1988-89 when the Minnesota North Stars began the year on an 0-4-0 note.
That’s a frustrating fact to digest. Just five days ago, the Stars had an ultimately healthy roster (besides a recovering Corey Perry), had finished their preseason schedule with a thrilling 4-3 win against Colorado in the shootout, and looked poised to meet the high expectations that had been set for them.
But then, opening night happened. Dallas lost three starters to various injuries in a matter of 15 minutes of game action. They only mustered four shots on net in the first period and looked to be dealing with the same early-game struggles that plagued them in 2018-19. The Boston Bruins scored on their first two shots on goal and took a commanding lead into the locker room.
And though the Stars were the better team in the final half of the game and Hintz got the Stars on the board midway through the second period, it wasn’t enough as Dallas fell 2-1.
Two nights later, they visited the reigning Stanley Cup champions in St. Louis. Though the Stars were tied or leading for a majority of the game, the Blues cashed in with a well-timed challenge that negated an Esa Lindell goal and two quick goals of their own in the third period to make it a 3-2 final.
And then there was Sunday. Though the Stars fixed their first period troubles and hopped into the driver’s seat going into first intermission, they stumbled down the stretch and ended up on the wrong side of a 4-3 decision.
So, what can be said about this 2019-20 Dallas Stars team through the first five days of their regular season?
First off, the season is not over. Far from it, in fact, with 79 games left to be played between now and early April. If anyone is thinking about panicking, take a breath and realize that this current skid accounts for 3.6 percent of the Stars’ season. In addition to that, the Stars were no stranger to a three-game losing skid during the 2018-19 season and still managed to end up one goal away from a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
These streaks can be overcome and getting them out of the way early in the year can sometimes be the best thing for a team. With that being said, however, it’s important to get to the crafting table and begin shoring up the weak spots.
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But what exactly is wrong with this Dallas Stars team? Missing four of your usual starters doesn’t help, but there are things that are still in the team’s control.
Through the first five days of the season, the Stars are averaging 2.00 goals per game. While that’s a small sample size, it’s also something that must be broken down and assessed.
Dallas only has Roope Hintz (3), Tyler Seguin, Miro Heiskanen, and Mattias Janmark to thank for their goal support through the first three games. That’s three forwards and one defenseman, none of which carry a cap hit of more than $2.3 million in the 2019-20 season (besides Seguin).
Names like Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, and Alexander Radulov have yet to find the back of the net. And while that’s not necessarily a serious concern with the season being less than a week old, it’s something that needs to change sooner rather than later. Dallas needs their high-end forwards to step up in the offensive zone.
In the other end of the ice, the Stars are averaging 3.00 goals against per game. That’s a substantial jump up from the 2.44 that they sacrificed per game in 2018-19 and makes the team look shaky in its strongest position. Ben Bishop currently owns a save percentage of .900 and a goals-against average of 2.58, while Anton Khudobin sits at a .879 save percentage and 4.06 GAA after his regular season debut in Detroit.
The Dallas Stars are lacking in the goal scoring department yet again, aren’t playing the airtight defensive game that they established in 2018-19, and aren’t getting the big saves from their goaltenders when they need them. They are 0-6 on the power play and sit 10th in penalty kill percentage after only giving up one power play goal on eight attempts to the Red Wings on Sunday.
They struggled with first period play against the Bruins, fell apart in the third period against the Blues, and struggled to capitalize on a strong start against the Red Wings.
In other words, there’s not a lot going right for the Stars at the moment. But there is still plenty of time to right the ship. How do they go about doing that?
"“It’s pretty self-explanatory where we are at right now.” – Jamie Benn on Stars’ early skid"
It’s going to take a full-team effort. The Stars’ top forwards need to step up immediately and begin having a nightly impact. Their defense needs to get back to playing a full, fluid 60-minute effort. Bishop and Khudobin need to find their footing and get back to making the big saves like they did in 2018-19. The special teams units need to step up and make an impact, though less penalties would also help greatly in that regard.
Jim Montgomery took a stab at righting the ship on Tuesday morning before the Stars take on the Washington Capitals and shuffled his lines. That shuffle included scratching Denis Gurianov. Whether Gurianov deserved a scratch or not after an impressive showing in St. Louis but bad turnover that led to a goal against in Detroit is another debate entirely, but it’s one that Montgomery believes will be beneficial.
“It’s just an opportunity for him to watch the game,” Montgomery told Mike Heika of DallasStars.com. “Sometimes you’re putting so much pressure on yourself to do the right thing that you kind of paralyze yourself. So just to get up there and watch the game from above and be like, `This game is a lot easier than I’m making it out to be right now.’ For him to just go out there and play.”
Here is how the Stars are expected to look come puck drop on Tuesday at Capital One Arena.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark – Roope Hintz – Joe Pavelski
Esa Lindell – Miro Heiskanen
There’s a lot to digest in the most recent shuffle. For one, the Stars have reunited their typical top line of Benn, Seguin and Radulov. Whether that sparks more production from three of the team’s highest-paid forwards won’t be answered until the game gets going, but you have to like seeing the three together after being so dominant on the top line over the previous two seasons.
Janmark and Hintz will once again help round out the top six alongside Pavelski, who has one assist in his first three games with the Stars. Janmark and Hintz currently share the team lead in points and were almost responsible for a comeback in Detroit.
Joel L’Esperance will also make his 2019-20 NHL debut and skate on the checking line alongside Cogliano and Faksa.
On defense, there’s a brand new look. With Klingberg being rotated down to the second pairing in favor of Heiskanen, it seems as though Montgomery is looking for more balance on the blue line. Utilizing Heiskanen’s speed on the top pairing alongside Lindell’s two-way approach could prove useful, and it will be interesting to see how Klingberg clicks with Sekera.
All of these changes are made in an attempt to help the team get out of their current hole. But at the end of the day, it will be up to the players on the ice to get the job done.
“I think it comes down to game management,” Montgomery said on Tuesday after morning skate. “We’re taking too many penalties and we’re not managing the game well in big moments right now. Parts of every game we’ve had moments where we have complete momentum and we take it away from ourselves.”
The Dallas Stars are 0-3-0 for the first time in 30 years and are in need of a boost. The season hasn’t started on the note that it was expected to and now the Stars have some catching up to do. It’s still early and there’s not a serious reason to panic yet, but the time to bounce back is now as Dallas sits in last place in the Central Division.
That next chance to bounce back comes tonight against a good Washington Capitals (2-0-1) team that is getting one of its best players back from suspension in Evgeny Kuznetsov. On the other hand, the Stars have been dominant against the Capitals, winning 12 of their past 16 games against the club.
Tonight’s game offers a lot of potential for the Dallas Stars to capitalize on, but it will be up to them to make it work on the final stop of the road trip.