Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Dallas Stars.
The Stars had plenty of reasons to play a … “low-event” style of hockey last season.
While Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn absorbed ridiculous (and profane) criticism from management, the bottom line was that they were generating most of the team’s offense, most of the time. Relying on Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin to keep the Stars in games made a lot of sense, especially when John Klingberg was injured, and Miro Heiskanen was thrown right into the deep end with big minutes and responsibilities.
You could picture Stars coach Jim Montgomery with a devil on one shoulder, and an angel on the other: do we keep going with what “worked” in 2018-19, or should the Stars try to score more goals in this next go-around?
Ultimately, the Stars’ style of play is an intriguing x-factor for 2019-20.
After all, the team made big investments in improving their scoring depth for 2019-20, as the Stars made a big splash with Joe Pavelski, and an interesting low-risk gamble with Corey Perry. With Roope Hintz showing potential for a breakout, it’s plausible that the Stars could go from a team that scored the third-fewest goals in the NHL (209) to a team that’s far more dynamic.
There are pros and cons to opening things up a bit more.
For one thing, it’s tough to imagine Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin replicating their fantastic work from last season.
Their team save percentage was a resounding .923 in 2018-19, versus a league average of .905, and the Stars enjoyed similar advantages at even-strength. Bishop was particularly brilliant with a .934 save percentage in the regular season and .933 in the playoffs, both marks that few goalies can pull off regularly, and 32-year-old Bishop often faces challenges even staying on the ice after years of wear and tear.
It’s not outrageous for head coach Jim Montgomery to take a “if it ain’t broke” mentality, though.
While the Stars weren’t the most exciting team to watch, they were often pretty effective once you consider certain analytics. Yes, they actually allowed more shots on goal per game (31.6) than they generated (30.7), yet the Stars look better when you drill down to other stats, as they were able to get a better share of high-danger chances than they allowed.
A boost from Pavelski and/or Perry doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the Stars should get into old-west shootouts with teams that have high-end arsenals. You could argue that Dallas may still be closer to mid-range when it comes to firepower, especially if Perry’s as done as he seemed during his darkest Ducks days.
But it’s tough to ignore that the Stars walked a difficult tightrope overall last season, only scoring nine more goals (209) than they allowed (200).
Maybe more than anything else, it’s crucial for Montgomery to avoid going on autopilot.
Injuries, and streaks both hot and cold, can change how you approach given nights during an 82-game season. There might be times when it makes sense for the Stars to be bolder, and also dog days of 2019-20 when they’re better off nursing leads and reducing the burden on veteran players. Montgomery also may want to experiment here and there, particularly if he believes that the top line could transform into two strong scoring lines now that Dallas has Pavelski in the mix.
With Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen providing the Stars with some modern weapons on defense, this team could conceivably succeed if they decide to pursue a frantic pace.
It should be intriguing to see how Montgomery approaches the way this team plays — and hopefully, it will also be fun to watch.