NHL Western Conference Playoffs: Look out for the Dallas Stars

The Stars of Dallas have had an interesting season, to say the least. After learning of their third head coach in just as many years, the Stars would now have to learn another system. Not only that, but the Dallas Stars would have to live with anticipation of possible changes to their lines.

As luck would have it, there were some crazy situations that the coaches and players would have to deal with. Players Martin Hanzal and Marc Methot and Stephen Johns were injured. Hanzal would return later in the season, but, his return was short-lived as he was injured again a short time after. Methot was only able to play nine games, and there is no sign of a Stephen Johns return.

Despite a strong showing throughout his season, Ben Bishop would also see some time on the injured list. A list that he, in fact, is still on. Then, as Jim Montgomery shuffled his lineup, the Stars would find themselves knee-deep in a tough offensive situation.

Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov have been the only players to produce consistently up until the trade deadline. Other big names like Jason Spezza, Val Nichushkin, or even Mattias Janmark we’re slow to get on the score sheet before the trade deadline. The Stars knew they needed to shake things up. And, for once, the Stars have seen consistent coaching through every challenge.

Addition By Subtraction And Stars Fighting Spirit

The Stars would send forward Devin Shore to the Anaheim Ducks for Andrew Cogliano. On paper, this trade was a head-scratcher at first. Due to the point totals being similar, would Cogliano help the Stars? Fans would later find out that Cogliano brought more than a scoring touch. Cogliano brought speed and a degree of grit that the Stars had been missing. So far, the trade has been a good fit.

After the trade, Stars GM has this to say about Cogliano: “In acquiring Andrew, we are able to add a conscientious player who brings a veteran presence to our room,” Nill stated in the press release. “His explosive speed, 200-foot game, and iron-man mentality will help our team both on and off the ice. Andrew Cogliano is one of the faster players in the NHL and you can never have enough speed,” Nill told Sean Shapiro of The Athletic shortly after the deal was announced. “Then his resume of winning that he’s done over the course of the career — add that and the piece of his play — it’s something you can never have enough of.”

In addition to the Shore trade, the Stars lost forward Gemel Smith off waivers to Boston. While the changes caught many fans off guard, the team has benefitted in the long run. In the case of Gemel Smith, it has been a case of “addition by subtraction”. Looking at the previously mentioned injuries, maybe there is more to the “addition by subtraction” than meets the eye.

With Methot and Johns gone on defense, the Stars were able to add defenseman Conner Carrick (later traded for Ben Lovejoy), Jamie Oleksiak who has a rather late 6 ft. 7 inch frame and physical presence, and more notably rookie Miro Heiskanen. So far, the Stars have shown no signs of missing anyone they have lost over the course of the season. In fact, they are showing the desire to fight through adversity.

Coaching Consistency And Player Buy-In

Dallas Stars Antom Khudobin Ben Bishop

Image Courtesy of USA Today and Defending Big D

Coach Jim Montgomery said in the very beginning, the Stars will learn to trust his “process”. And, by the looks of it, the players do just that. Montgomery brings a coaching process that focuses equally on every phase of the game. With that, the Stars have vastly improved. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have anchored the Stars in net.

Ranking among the top in save percentage, goals against average and penalty kill, it’s easygoing see that the Stars have improved in the defense and penalty kill categories respectively. And now the Stars are even on the positive side of the “goal differential” category. While it isn’t totally positive, the Stars fan at least say that they’re improving. The Stars had some troubles as recently as last year in this category.

Before Anton Khudobin was brought into the mix, the Stars would almost allow just as many goals as they scored. And, conversely, the personnel on the ice could score very few while allowing very few. We can look at goal differential from two different angles. If a team isn’t scoring much, are they at least trying to stop the goals from going in? Second, if the team is investing all its energy in the offense, how are the defensemen and goalies balancing it out?

The Stars goal differential is key in their efforts to right the ship. With all the injuries on defense and the lack of scoring from the bottom six forwards, the Stars were in hot water. However, something must be going right. For the first time in some time, the Stars are at +10 differential. Could this be a sign of “player buy-in” with the offense moving positively?

One thing that wasn’t previously touched on above, is the addition of Mats Zuccarello. Zuccarello adds a scoring punch to the Stars. Though he has only played three games since being traded to Dallas, Zuccarello is showing he belongs. Scoring one goal and two assists, Zuccarello is showing he can average at least one point per game. Making an immediate impact such as this can surely create more “buy-in”, right? A new player steps in and is stealing the show, the Stars defense and goalies have been solid, and something seems to be clicking.

Final Thoughts

Fans and media alike had low expectations for the Dallas Stars this season. With a new head coach – a coach who hadn’t been the bench boss at the NHL level, would the Stars succeed? The Stars have gone toe-to-toe with top division and conference foes and won. The Winnipeg Jets are the number one team in the Central Division. The Calgary Flames are the top of the Western Conference.

The surprising note: the Stars have disposed of both teams with relative ease. During the regular season series with the Jets, the Stars went 3-1. The Stars also swept the Calgary Flames. Why is this important? There are two games remaining in the regular season. Both Calgary and Winnipeg are potential first-round matchups. If the Stars win out, and the Blues of St. Louis lose remain on their pace, the Stars could pass them in the standings.

How do you feel about the Dallas Stars heading towards the playoffs? Leave a comment below.

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