The Dallas Stars finally graduated from exciting to actually great last season, posting excellent shot differentials and ripping through teams with scoring chances from all areas of the lineup. The only weakness that was immediately apparent was in goal, where Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi failed to inspire.
Not much has changed with the goaltending this season. Both Lehtonen and Niemi are posting identically poor .898 save percentages so far. Last season the Stars were able to regularly overcome their goaltending issues, but this year there has been significantly more struggles; just look at their even-strength play compared to last season.
The drop off in terms of play has been extreme so far this season, and while lots of blame for that can be placed on injuries, with Patrick Sharp missing all but four games so far, and Ales Hemsky and Cody Eakin missing all but one, there’s more to it than that.
Ever since he took over the Stars, general manager Jim Nill has managed to make serious roster improvement essentially every summer, but this off-season’s work was a little underwhelming by comparison.
Dan Hamhuis was a solid addition for the Stars on defence, especially at the salary and term he was signed to, but he is older than Goligoski and Demers, and so far he hasn’t been as strong in terms of driving even-strength play as they were. Even if he was to able replace one of the two, the Stars still needed another player to either step up from within the organization, or to be brought in from elsewhere.
To make matters worse for the Stars, after looking like a franchise defenceman for two seasons, Klingberg has had a very rough start to the season, posting negative shot and scoring chance differentials so far.
Klingberg is still leading the Stars in possession-driving plays and scoring chance generation, but he has been a turnover machine, with 38.4 per cent of his plays with the puck ending up on the opposing team’s stick, the worst mark of any top-pairing defenceman so far this season.
Unfortunately, Hamhuis isn’t far behind Klingberg in the turnover category, with 38.2 per cent of his plays ending in a loss of possession as well.
The combination of the Stars’ two most important defencemen being so careless with the puck has been a critical component to the team failing to generate their usual speed through the middle.
Dallas was never a defensive juggernaut, so that hampering of its transition game cutting down its offence is a big deal. A healthy lineup would certainly help, but head coach Lindy Ruff needs to settle his team down as well, and focus on what drove its success last season.