Going into the 2017/18 season, the Dallas Stars may have been the most hyped team in hockey.
Adding a stud goaltender like Ben Bishop and a future Hall of Fame coach like Ken Hitchcock to an already strong lineup will do that. Even when it’s a team like the Stars, who badly underachieved last year on their way to missing the playoffs by 15 points.
So far, however, the Stars’ regular-season streak hasn’t matched the pre-season sizzle. Dallas enters action Tuesday as one of only seven teams yet to post a victory, having dropped its season opener 2-1 to the Vegas Golden Knights and then falling 4-2 the following night at St. Louis.
It’s got people wondering, what’s wrong with the Dallas Stars?
The answer: Not much. The 0-2 record doesn’t quite tell the whole story about how much better the Stars are playing this season.
They’re playing much better defensively
We already knew the Stars would play a lot differently under Hitchcock. In ten of Hitchcock’s 14 full seasons behind an NHL bench, his teams were fifth or better in fewest goals allowed. Rather than trading chances with the opposition and looking to overwhelm foes with offensive talent the way it did under former coach Lindy Ruff, Dallas will focus a lot more this year on taking care of things in its own end.
So far, the Stars have done exactly that. As Mike Heika pointed out for the Dallas Morning News, Dallas is allowing the fewest shots per game (25.5) so far this year. And the Stars have done this without sacrificing too much of their offensive game, firing 40-plus shots on net in each of their first two contests.
Bad luck has hurt them
Bad luck may have had more to do with the Stars’ disappointing start than their play has.
In Friday’s season opener, Dallas nursed a 1-0 lead into the third period before Bishop had to leave the game with a head injury and Kari Lehtonen was forced into action.
Lehtonen’s 2.85 goals-against average and .902 save percentage last year were the reason the Stars had to trade for Bishop. And sure enough, Vegas tied the game five minutes after Lehtonen took the ice, then scored the eventual game-winner seven minutes later.
It also hurt the Stars’ cause that Vegas had extra motivation of playing its first game in franchise history. Or that the very next day, the Stars had to visit a St. Louis team who is one of the league’s best second-half teams last year and is already off to a 3-0 start this season.
Though Dallas could draw inspiration from trying to get Hitchcock a victory in his first game back in St. Louis since being fired by the Blues last year, the Blues were also looking to prove that Hitchcock’s firing was not a mistake. St. Louis goalie Jake Allen stood on his head, stopping 38 of 40 Dallas shots as the Stars outshot the Blues 28-12 in the last two periods.
Starting the year with two straight losses isn’t exactly what Stars’ fans were envisioning, especially when one of those opponents (Vegas) is expected to finish at the bottom of the NHL this season.
However, it’s far too early to panic. There may have been reason to worry if Bishop had been forced to miss a lot of time due to the head laceration he suffered in the season opener, but the star netminder is expected to be back in action Tuesday versus Detroit.
The shot counts already show major improvements have been made in Big D. It won’t take long before the scoreboard illustrates them.
Do you agree that the Stars will quickly turn things around, or is this more of the same from last year? Let us know below in the comments section.
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