On the Radar: Eastbound and Up?
With Halloween marking the end of the NHL’s opening month, it’s still sometimes difficult to know which team the Dallas Stars will dress up as from night to night. Will it be the one that ran Calgary out of the AAC in blowout fashion last week? Or will it be the one that could not generate for most of the game against Winnipeg two nights later? Sometimes trick. Sometimes treat. And sometimes the costumes even change from shift to shift and period to period. But last week was a good week for the Stars. Not quite a great week. It could have been a great week. But it wasn’t. Sometimes you get a Milky Way, and sometimes you get your 85-year old neighbor’s hard candy scraps. They can’t all be wins.
The opening month of the NHL season is in the books and the Stars hit the first checkpoint with a 5-6-1 record to start the new campaign. Since our last OTR, Dallas picked up five of a possible eight points in a quartet of games. They were a scoreless shootout vs. Winnipeg and a couple of bad bounces at Montreal away from increasing that total and getting back to.500 or better by October’s end. But as it stands the Stars will enter the second month of the season one game under the even record that they have straddled for most of the first dozen games.
Through the opening month Dallas played just one opponent multiple times (The Winnipeg Jets) and the Stars went 1-0-1 in the two games. Coming up in November the Stars will play 8 of their 12 games against teams they will be seeing for the first time. In all, 19 of the first 22 games Dallas plays this season come against new opponents. That yields a lot of new matchups and a learning curve for both teams. One of the few repeat opponents, however, comes in the first test of November, and the only home game of this week. On Friday the Stars play host to the surprising Colorado Avalanche, who at 10-1 own the best record in the NHL. Apparently the Avalanche signed up for the Kansas City Chiefs self-help seminars during the off-season and come to Texas with a swagger and confidence that only the league’s top record can provide. Well, that and taking your cues from Patrick Roy who knows a thing
Roy has turned things around in Denver, and brings his worst-to-first club into the AAC for the first time in the regular season. The Avs barely held off the Stars in their first meeting on October 15th thanks to Semyon Varlamov’s 39-save performance. Dallas is hoping for a similar effort with better results this time against the best statistical goaltending tandem in the NHL. Following that, it’s more first-time opponents to cap the week. It starts with the first matinee game of the season, as the Stars travel to Ottawa for a noon (CST) face-off with the Senators on Sunday. They then continue their road swing with a Tuesday night stop in Boston to face the Bruins. Needless to say, it’s fair to assume there will be a few storylines
The week ahead will once again provide some tough competition for the Stars. They get a crack at 4-6-2 Ottawa in the middle, but the set of games is bookended by Colorado and Boston who are a combined 17-4 on the season. As you get ready for all of the action, here is a look at some key elements to keep On the Radar:
This season the Stars have played 3-1-1 hockey at the AAC, and 2-5 hockey everywhere else. It’s easy to see why those records exist with a simple goals-against comparison. In 5 games the Stars have allowed 10 combined goals at home this year, an average of 2.0 goals against per game (non-shootout). On the road the Stars have surrendered 25 goals in 7 games, an average of 3.57. They are in the same neighborhood of about 2.5 goals scored per game in both home and road games. The Stars need to a figure out a way to crack the road issues this week as two of the three games come away from Dallas. The strange thing about this week is that all three Dallas opponents currently have a better record on the road than at home. Colorado is a perfect 5-0 at home, and 5-1 in Denver. Ottawa is a meager 1-3 at home, but plays .500 on the road with a 3-3-2 record. Finally, for as much of an atmosphere Boston creates at TD Garden, the B’s are only an average 3-3 at home, and a perfect 4-0 on the road. Dallas will try to stop Colorado’s perfect run away from the Rocky Mountains as they put their four-game home point streak on the line Friday. Then, once on the road they hope to add to their road point total and take advantage of a couple of clubs who have struggled to play their best hockey in their own zip codes. Road success will be key this month, and throughout the entire month of November. Beginning in Ottawa, Dallas has a run of 7 of 9 games away from home.
Despite the difference in records at home versus on the road, the Stars power play has been solid on the road, while it has flat-lined back in Texas. Dallas is 0-16 on the man-advantage this year at the AAC. They are one of only two teams in the NHL without a home power play goal, and the other one is the New York Rangers who have only played one home game thus far. Dallas is 6-for-25 for 24.0% on the road this year. Overall the Avalanche have allowed a stingy 1.46 goals per game this season, the fewest of any team in the NHL. With scoring likely to come at a premium on Friday against Colorado, the power play could provide some much-needed offense if Dallas can break out of their AAC funk. However, it won’t be easy. The Avs have the #1 ranked PK unit at 92.3%, and they are a perfect 17/17 on the road this year.
Wild Wild West
Through the first month of the season the West has dominated the East in inter-conference play. The new realignment means that each of the 14 Western Conference teams play each of the 16 Eastern Conference teams twice a season. The early sampling has the West earning a mark of 54-19-8 in games against clubs in the East. Unfortunately for Dallas that success hasn’t paralleled their own experience. Dallas has played four games against Eastern Conference teams, and they are an even 2-2. The Stars have wins against Washington and Buffalo, and losses to Florida and Montreal. Stars Head Coach, Lindy Ruff said recently that he does notice a more physical style of play in the Western Conference as one of the big differences. No matter the style matchup, Dallas will hope to echo the success of their conference mates against the East as two of their three games this week are against clubs in the other conference. Dating back to Monday’s win in Buffalo, the Stars are in a stretch where five of six games are against Eastern Conference opponents. It concludes on Thursday, Nov. 7 against the recently shifted Detroit Red Wings.
Blue Light Special
7 of the Stars 30 goals this season have been scored by defensemen. That’s nearly 25% of Dallas’ scoring output on the year. By contrast, last season Dallas d-men combined for just 14 goals throughout the entire 48-game schedule. That accounted for only 10.7% of the Stars final goal tally for the season. This year five of the six regular defensemen have scored so far this season for Dallas, led by Brenden Dillon who has three. The second-year blue liner ranks tied for second in the NHL among defensemen goal scorers. With the team still hoping to get an increase in scoring from their third and fourth lines, the emergence of offense from the blue line is a welcomed sight. Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of scoring from d-men this week from both the Stars AND their opponents. Boston defenseman, Torey Krug leads the NHL with four goals this season, and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is part of the pack at three goals, alongside Dillon. Boston’s Dougie Hamilton, Ottawa’s Jared Cowen, and Colorado’s Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda all additionally have two goals this season. There are 30 multi-goal scoring defensemen this season, and 7 of them come from the Stars and their opponents this week. Look for the possibility of a lot of spread out contributions.
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 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.