When the Dallas Stars snuck into the 2013-2014 postseason, the franchise hoped that would pave the way for playoff victories and success. Unfortunately the defense and goaltending collapsed in the following season and Dallas found themselves on the outside looking in. Not wanting to repeat the same failure, Stars GM Jim Nill acquired the rights to and signed goaltender Antti Niemi, acquired Patrick Sharp for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt, and signed Johnny Oduya in the offseason. With those moves, the Stars became the enticing pick to be a breakout team in 2015-2016.
Despite some questions on defense and in the bottom six, Dallas did not disappoint.
Through their first 39 games played, the Dallas Stars lead the Western Conference and Central Division by nine points each. Dallas boasts the best home record, road record, and out of conference records in the Western Conference, dominating their way to the top of the standings. With twenty more goals scored than the next best team in the NHL, the Stars have been able to surrender the 16th most goals against per game without losing ground. Let’s take a look at how the Stars have taken control of the Western Conference through the first half of the season.
Last season the Stars surrendered the fourth most goals against per game in the NHL at 3.13. The goaltending combination of Kari Lehtonen and Anders Lindback, who was traded for Jonas Enroth in February, ranked second worst in the NHL with a ghastly .895 save percentage. Despite having a positive shot differential for the season and ranking 2nd in the NHL in goals for per game, the Stars tried to out-score their problems and frequently failed.
This season, the defense has been given a lift with the signing of Johnny Oduya, having the talented John Klingberg since season’s start, and Jyrki Jokipakka and Jason Demers taking on even more responsibility. Having consistency on the backend has allowed goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi to do their jobs with confidence in their blue line.
Though the tandem sit mid-pack in goals against per game, the Stars’ league leading offense has more than made up for that.
Best Offense in Hockey
When Jim Nill stole Tyler Seguin away from the Boston Bruins, this season is what he had in mind.
Reigning Art Ross winner Jamie Benn and Seguin have been neck-and-neck this season in the current race for the NHL point lead, while working together to form the most dangerous pair of forwards in the NHL. Mix in the newly acquired Patrick Sharp and second-year Star Jason Spezza, and Dallas has a top group of forwards that cannot be matched. Having the quartet of All-Star caliber forwards has allowed Lindy Ruff to shelter the minutes of his bottom six forwards when necessary, as well as taking the pressure off the defense and goaltending in the process.
Benn and Seguin rank 2nd and 3rd in the NHL in points respectively, while defenseman John Klingberg ranks second among NHL defensemen. Dallas ranks first in the NHL in goals per game, putting up over 0.4 goals per game more than the next best team in the Western Conference. When it comes to putting pucks in the net, no team in hockey does it better than the Stars.
Summary and Moving Forward
The Stars set out to be among the best in the West when they made major acquisitions this offseason, and there’s no question that they’ve reached their goal.
The defense has improved, the offense has been the best in the NHL, and even the special teams has seen both the penalty kill and power-play improve in rankings. There is no aspect of the Stars’ game that has not seen improvement over the past season, something that few teams can say in any given season. Jim Nill and Lindy Ruff deserve credit for going full speed ahead after watching the playoffs from home last season.
Ahead for the Stars comes the looming question of consistency. Any time a new team enters the mix of the best teams in the league, the question of if the team can hold onto their top spot during the final stretch is raised. The additions of Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya should prove vital in this department, as both won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks last season and have an abundance of experience playing in playoff races. The idea must be to play consistent hockey and ignore naysayers questioning if Dallas can keep up with the Kings and Blackhawks in the West.
If they stick to the winning formula that brought them to the top of the Western Conference halfway through the season, the Stars could play their way into June.