After being one of the NHL’s most exciting teams and winning the Central Division title a year ago, the Dallas Stars have to be considered one of the bigger disappointments through the first half of the 2016-17 season.
With 50 points in 50 games entering the All-Star break this weekend, the Stars find themselves three points out of a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and are on pace to finish with only 82 points on the season, a mark that would be a 27-point drop from a year ago.
Obviously, that is not good for a team that came into the season with what should have been Stanley Cup aspirations.
Following their 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night coach Lindy Ruff, who does not have a contract beyond this season, was asked if the team’s current record and their current big picture outlook makes him think about his job and the job he has done behind the bench this season.
Ruff admitted that he not only thinks about it every day, but that he is also not happy with the job he has done this season.
“I think about my job everyday,” said Ruff, via the Dallas Morning News.
“I think of ways to improve. I look at the special teams. That’s on me. Improving special teams. I don’t like where our penalty killing is at. we’ve worked on trying to change that. I am not happy with the job I’ve done. I understand we’ve gone through a lot of injuries, a lot of players shuffling around, but I assess my job everyday.”
He continued: “I think we’ve worked as hard as we could have possibly worked the past few days to win games. We finally got some breaks to go our way. We’ve talked about missed opportunities. We’ve talked about the power plays opportunities we missed to win the previous game. We talked about the power play opportunity we missed on the Island to tie a hockey game with five minutes left. You have to set up those opportunities, but at the same time you have to win games. You have to produce. We can’t just talk about chances. This is a league you have to win. You have to win. There is only one thing, and you have to win. We’re sitting there close enough, but we’re coming out of the break we have to win. I don’t like our overtime, but again that is something I am responsible for.”
When it comes to the latter point, the Stars are only 2-10 this season in games that have been decided in overtime or a shootout after going 8-9 in such games a year ago. A similar winning percentage this season would give them an additional three or four wins in the standings and probably have them in a playoff position right now. It would still be a regression from where they were a season ago, but it would also probably change the perception of their season heading into the break a little bit as well.
Big picture though the problems for the Stars are easy to identify at this point. Injuries have played a significant role this season as several key players, including Jamie Benn (four games), Jason Spezza (seven games), Patrick Sharp (26 games), Ales Hemsky (49 games), Cody Eakin (32 games), Jiri Hudler (28 games) and Johnny Oduya (24 games) all missing significant time this season. They also have the same issues they’ve had for much of the past two seasons when it comes to goal prevention with a defense that has some holes and a goaltending situation that remains unsettled with big money going to both Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, while continuing to get below league average play from both of them. The issues on defense have only been made worse by a bit of a regression from John Klingberg. Put all of that together with the aforementioned injuries that have at times completely decimated their forwards and it should not be a surprise the team has fallen short of expectations.