On the Radar: Hitting the Road
Opening weekend for the Stars brought about plenty of talking points for the Dallas faithful. An opening night disappointment was followed up by an inspiring, second-game response, and two games into the year, the Stars find themselves an even 1-1. The first two games provided high and low points alike for a team that still is in its stage of infancy as a collective unit.
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn helped set up Erik Cole’s first goal of the season with a highlight-reel sequence on Saturday night. Not only was the goal huge in swinging momentum that clearly resided with Washington at the time, but it also was a thing of beauty. Seguin furnished the primary assist, whetting the appetite of Stars fans, with a nifty, no-look pass from behind the goal line. The goal was an example of how pretty – and effective – Dallas’ top line can be. However, it was also the only point in two games for all three top-line forwards.
The Stars defense looked suspect on opening night, allowing 39 shots to a Florida team that finished dead last in the NHL last season. Two nights later, however, that same group did a 180, and held the notoriously dangerous Washington Capitals offense to a single goal on 26 shots against.
In the end, the Stars wound up looking very much like the team that many believed they would be prior to the start of the season. That is one that looks like they can play with anyone when they are clicking, but also one that certainly is still a work in progress. Over the course of 82 games, the reality is that some will look like the opening night loss to Florida. The hope, and expectation, is that many more will look like the win against Washington. The Stars schedule continues this week as Dallas heads north to open up a three-game road trip in their first taste of Central Division action. Let’s take a look at what’s On The Radar for the week ahead.
Is The Rust Off?
Dallas begins their Western Conference schedule with a Friday night stop in Winnipeg, followed by a Saturday night visit to Minnesota, and a Tuesday night road-trip finale in Colorado. By the time the puck drops Friday, the Stars will have gone 13 days and only played two games. Not counting the Olympic break, the five-day layoff between their Oct. 5th contest vs. Washington, and Friday’s game in Winnipeg is by far the longest of the season. In fact, the Stars do not even have a four-day layoff, and only have four times all season when they are idle for three straight days. Layoffs like this late in the season can allow a team to recover from the grind of the season. This early in the year, when recovery is seldom needed, a layoff like that creates more of an obstacle than an aid.
Admirably so, nobody was making excuses after last Thursday’s 4-2 loss to the Panthers. To a man the Stars simply said they weren’t good enough. Period. However, the team had gone five straight days without a game or scrimmage, after having played one or the other almost every day, dating back to the start of training camp. While no one in the locker room pointed at those days as a reason for their sloppy play, they definitely looked like a team that hadn’t been in a game in a long time. It’s often said that there is a fine line between rest and rust. While the Stars will certainly be plenty rested, one question looming is how they will perform after another lengthy layoff. Bear in mind that not only is it the long layoff, but it’s also just Dallas’ third game together with many new parts. This club is still coming together. By contrast, Winnipeg will be playing their fifth game of the season. Making sure they are physically and mentally up for the game with such a spread out schedule to open the season will be a huge key for the Stars. The club knows how it felt to open the season after such a layoff. This time they need to be ready for exactly what the downtime is like.
Nose for the Net
Through two games, the Stars have scored four goals. And rookie forward Alex Chiasson has accounted for half of them. Chiasson is picking up where he left off last year after jetting onto the scene with six goals in his first six NHL games. He’s carried the pace into this season, and now has eight goals in nine career games. Chiasson is already making headlines throughout the NHL for his play, and as long as his run continues, so too will his popularity. When you break down his career score sheet, Chiasson’s success can be traced back to a willingness to go to the front of the net, and effectiveness once he is there. Five of the youngster’s eight NHL goals have been scored from inside 10 feet from the goal line, including both goals this season. Whether it’s a tip-in, goal-mouth scramble, wrap-around, or simply following the play by crashing the net, look for #12 to be within a body length of the blue paint this road trip. And if things go according to plan, look for him to return to Texas with more than the pair of goals he departed with.
Shot Through the Heart
One of the big focuses for Lindy Ruff and company is keeping the number of shots-against down this season. On average, Dallas allowed 31 shots on goal last year, the 9th most in the NHL. In case you’re wondering about the importance of limiting shots against, the proof is in the numbers. 11 of the 14 teams who gave up the most shots in the NHL last season missed the playoffs. Though it’s only been two games, Dallas was night and day in shots allowed. They reduced the opening night number by a third in their 2-1 victory over Washington, but still average 32.5 shots against. This week the test (at least on paper) gets more difficult as the schedule goes on. Winnipeg is only averaging 26 shots on goal through three games, the fifth fewest in the league. Minnesota averages 32 shots (11th most) and Colorado averages 32.7 (8th most). Look for Dallas to try to keep that number much closer to the 26 they allowed vs. Washington than the 39 they surrendered to Florida. At the other end of the ice, Dallas will certainly try to get more on net, after combining for just 48 shots in their first two games. Their average of 24 shots per game is tied for the lowest in the NHL so far on the young season. A large reason for that has been the ineffectiveness of the power play.
Speaking of which…the best thing that can be said about the Stars power play two games in, is that it has nowhere to go but up. Through the opening week of the season, Dallas has as many shorthanded goals as they have shots on the power play.
The Stars have struggled badly on the man-advantage, going 0 for 5 in their first two games. They still appear committed to the four-forward system, although late on Saturday, we did see Ruff put two defensemen back on the points. (It is worth noting that Dallas was nursing a one-goal lead in the third period, with defensive responsibility trumping the added advantage of a fourth forward at the time.) Regardless of the personnel out there, the power play has to improve. This weekend might be the perfect time to break out. Winnipeg and Minnesota have both been suspect on the penalty kill so far. The Jets have the 8th lowest PK percentage at 71.4%. The Wild are even more generous at 60%, the fourth worst mark in the league. Perhaps this is the opening that the Dallas power play needs to wake up. For what it’s worth, both Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn scored a quarter of their goals last season on the power play. Considering the team has ridden two terrific performances from Kari Lehtonen thus far, some more offense is a much needed commodity as the schedule gets busier. While the power play is one way to boost production, if all else fails, the Stars can see if the Zach Bogosian pizza parlor still delivers in Manitoba. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8eFtyo2wkY
Enjoy the road trip, folks. We’ll see you back here next week to preview the Stars return home.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310 The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.