New head coach, new starting goalie, same old problems?
The Dallas Stars distinguished themselves by making waves during the offseason – again – yet they find themselves in a 1-3-0 hole after falling 4-1 to the Nashville Predators on Thursday.
When it comes to righting the ship, there’s good news and bad news.
While Jamie Benn provides the expected “not good enough” to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, it’s not surprising that head coach Ken Hitchcock got to the heart of the matter: they’ve been making opposing goalies look like stars so far.
That could be read as “bad bounces” shorthand, and you know what? Hitchcock is correct.
Things that should change over time
With a 2.94 shooting percentage at 5-on-5, the Stars only have better shooting luck so far than the remarkably unlucky Montreal Canadiens.
It’s also worth noting that they haven’t really been able to fully deploy their new weapons. Ben Bishop dealt with a freak injury when his goalie mask didn’t provide enough protection, while Martin Hanzal‘s off to a rough start thanks to health and possibly supplemental discipline for that hit on Yannick Weber.
(Granted, if the Stars didn’t realize that Hanzal’s had a maddening history of injuries, that’s also on them.)
The Stars can’t blame a faulty power play for their troubles, however. They’ve converted on 33.3 percent of their opportunities (4 for 12), tying the Toronto Maple Leafs for the most efficient unit.
To some extent, that scoring issue is likely to work itself out.
Chance to mix things up
Still, one cannot help but wonder if Hitchcock might want to spread the wealth as far as linemates go.
So far, Alex Radulov is spending almost every minute on a top-heavy line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. That’s fun for fantasy hockey nerds, but if the Stars are struggling to score at even-strength, maybe they need to move one or more of those big names around?
These are the Stars’ lines if Hanzal plays, via Left Wing Lock:
Benn – Seguin – Radulov
Remi Elie – Jason Spezza – Brett Ritchie
Mattias Janmark – Hanzal – Devin Shore
Antoine Roussel – Radek Faksa – Tyler Pitlick
One option that stands out is that the Stars have some room to maneuver with as far as centers go. Faksa could conceivably be an option on the third line, possibly allowing Spezza to go to a wing. Failing that, Ritchie might be an option on the top trio if Hitchcock wanted to experiment with pairings in Spezza – Radulov and Benn – Seguin.
None of this needs to happen ASAP, and perhaps the current alignments are the best ones.
The positive side of early-season uncertainty is getting the opportunity to experiment, though.
The road ahead
“Inconsistent” might be a word that gets thrown around in part because of a schedule with some ups and downs.
The Stars play three of four and four of their next six games at home, so that’s an opportunity to get things on track (so far they’ve played two games at home and two on the road).
They’ll need to brace themselves, as they’ll begin a five-game road trip on Oct. 24.
The Stars have tied their opponents in shots on goal once and won the shots battle three times this season. On two occasions, they generated a significant differential. There are plenty of signs that this team is experiencing bad luck and should start to see things go their way.
(Tyler Seguin leads the NHL with 29 SOG, but only has two goals so far. As just one example.)
There’s a fine line between things working out over time and “making your own bounces,” so Hitchcock should use these early challenges as learning opportunities.
Even for himself.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.
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