What is driving the Stars’ offensive breakout?

The Stars have pushed one of the top Stanley Cup contenders to the brink of elimination and are a win away from reaching the Western Conference Final for the first time since the 2008.

On its own nothing about that sentence should be overly shocking.

The Stars won a lot of games during the regular season, and they were at pretty much this exact same point in the playoffs a year ago.

What is surprising about their success this season is the way they are winning.

They enter Game 5 of their Second Round series against the Avalanche on Monday (9:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream) as one of the highest scoring team in the league since the 16-team playoff field began play a couple of weeks ago. Since the start of the First Round the Stars have already scored 40 goals in their 10 playoff games, and when looking at it from a goals-per-game angle there is really only one other team that has been close to them (Colorado).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To fully grasp what is happening here we need to at least consider how much the Stars struggled offensively coming into the playoffs.

  • During the regular season they finished 26th in the league in goals per game, and managed just five total goals in their three Round-Robin games.
  • Since the start of the 2018-19 season, the only three teams in the league that scored fewer goals per game have been the Kings, Ducks, and Red Wings — three of the worst teams in the league.
  • Over the past three years the Stars have had only one other 10-game stretch where they scored at least 40 goals, and that came earlier this season between October 28 and November 22 when they went on a 9-0-1 run. Last year they never scored more than 31 goals over any 10-game stretch.

This just isn’t something they do. When they have found success, it has typically been on the strength of goaltending and the fact they have two No. 1 defenders on their blue line in Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg.

Those factors are still there right now (Heiskanen is an early Conn Smythe contender), but they are also getting offense.

Where is that offense coming from?

The power play

This is the one area where the Stars have been very respectable offensively the past two years, finishing in the top half of the league (13th and 11th) in terms of power play success rate.

The Stars’ big problem offensively in recent years has been a lack of depth beyond their top five or six players (only three forwards had more than 30 total points a year ago). But while that depth has been a question mark, there has still been enough talent at the top of the lineup to put a functioning power play unit together.

During this 10-game run that power play unit has converted on 28.6 percent of its opportunities. Just for perspective, the top power play unit in the NHL from the regular season converted on 28.2 percent of its chances (that power play unit belonged to Tampa).

The top line is dominating again

The trio of Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin has been the Stars’ go-to line for three years now, and at times over that stretch has been the only line carrying them.

They are starting to do that again.

Over the past 10 games that trio has spent nearly 100 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together, a stretch that has seen them outscore their opponents by a 9-2 margin and completely dictate the pace of the game in terms of shot attempts and scoring chances. Seguin hasn’t really started to pile up points just yet, but Benn and Radulov have been outstanding over the past two weeks.

They found some secondary help

The Stars spent big over the summer on Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry with the hopes they could solve some of the secondary scoring issues. And while Pavelski had a slow start and did not come close to matching his 40-goal performance from a year ago, he has been everything the Stars could have hoped for in the playoffs with seven goals in the first 13 games.

Keep in mind, the Stars played 13 playoff games a year ago and did not have a single player score more than five goals in those games.

Then there is Denis Gurianov, probably the most overlooked player on this team — maybe within the team itself. The rookie finished the regular season as the Stars’ leading goal-scorer (20) despite averaging just a little more than 12 minutes of ice-time per game and only being a secondary part of the power play. His role has increased a little in the playoffs (still only 14 minutes per game) and is, again, leading the team in goals (8).

The fact the Stars’ top-two goal scorers in the playoffs are NOT a part of their top line is perhaps the most encouraging development for them because it means that top trio does not have to be counted on to carry the offense. Add in players like Roope Hintz and Radek Faksa making an impact on the power play, and there are a lot of positives here.

Some luck

Yes, there is a little of that going on here and it’s not bad a thing. Every Stanley Cup team always has some luck on its side at some point. And when your team scores on more than 11 percent of its shots over a 10-game stretch, when that team hasn’t been close to that in years, there is an element of luck to that.

Some of it is simple puck luck and shooting luck (like that Cale Makar turnover on Sunday).

Some of it is running into a couple of teams (Calgary and Colorado) that do not have the strongest goaltending. That has been especially true in this series where Pavel Francouz has struggled in place of Philipp Grubauer.

MORE:
Heiskanen takes over top spot in Conn Smythe Watch
Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round schedule


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced Friday that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.

    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

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    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”