Everything Else

Taylor is the editor-in-chief of DefendingBigD.com. Follow her @TaylorBaird.

Last time we saw the Stars, they were in the muddle of the last playoff spot along with the Hawks. They’ve since separated themselves into the first wild card spot and are hot on the heels of the Blues for the third spot in the Central. What’s been the change?

The Stars defense continues to improve. They’ve climbed from somewhere in the 20’s in the league in terms of goals against average to 5th in the league, allowing only 2.56 goals against on average per game. It’s been improvement in both even strength defense and penalty killing (where they rank 9th in the league today at 82.2% of penalties killed.) The goaltending has been fantastic of late, with Kari Lehtonen having a renaissance in terms of stats (.919SV% and 2.22 GAA) and Ben Bishop’s performance nothing to sneeze at, either (.919 SV%, 2.44 GAA). The offense has also come on of late, averaging slightly more than three goals per game on average now. It’s a big change from the first roughly 15 games of the season, when the team was struggling in all aspects other than the power play.
Jason Spezza only put up 50 points last year, and is on pace for way less this year. He’s been shuttled between center and wing. Is it just time that’s caught up? Is this a major problem?

The Stars have struggled to figure out Spezza’s role on the team. It’s driven by Radek Faksa emerging as a premier two-way center on the team as well as the offseason signing of Martin Hanzal. Spezza struggled offensively at the beginning of the season, and his ice time suffered because of it. He’s also been paired with wingers that haven’t been known for finishing, and think the game a pace behind Spezza. That’s contributed to his offensive decline. One thing I will say is that Spezza has looked better since being reunited with Mattias Janmark, so there’s still hope that it might turn around for him in the last 20ish games or so. As they say, it’s all about how you roll into the playoffs, right?
There are two players in Brett Ritchie and Julius Honka who don’t have the scoring stats you might want, but have glittering underlying numbers. Are the Stars happy enough with these two just pushing the play?

I think they are happy to a degree, yes. With Ritchie, the coach has come out and even said that he’s struggled mightily this year. That’s why he’s found himself pushed down the lineup or eating some healthy scratches at times, as other players look better and produce. But he’s still getting the chance to play through his struggles for the most part, even if it’s to the chagrin of some fans. As for Honka, it’s tough for fans to see a young player with that much potential get jerked around in terms of playing time, but at the end of the day, the Stars need a defense that works. Honka seems to have taken his healthy scratches in stride, and his games of late have shown he’s listened when the coaching staff has said he’s been too cautious in terms of offense. I feel like he will be tough to fit into the lineup when Marc Methot returns to the lineup healthy, if only because I’m not sure he’s done enough to beat out Stephen Johns for the 6th D spot, and Hitch seems to love him some Greg Pateryn (even if the underlying numbers are just blah with him…)
Is. a 2.44 GAA and .919 SV% what you expected out of Ben Bishop? Is that enough to go where the Stars want?
The last few years, all Dallas would have needed was LEAGUE AVERAGE goaltending to go far. Those numbers are far and away better than what Stars fans have seen in the past 5ish years, so we’ll happily take it.
What will the Stars be looking to do at the deadline?
To be honest, I’m not sure there’s much that the Stars will do at the deadline. I think they like their lineup, and it’s been working for them of late, so it’s possible that they won’t want to overpay for a deadline rental. If they target anyone, I’d bet on a top six right wing to add some depth to the second line in terms of scoring, or someone that adds to the second power play unit to make that player set more lethal. But with the draft coming to Dallas this summer, they likely won’t want to deal too many of their picks — and their pipeline of talent isn’t in a position to deal too many of those (though if they are going to do so, blueline seems to be a position of depth but not necessarily strength, and they have a few forwards that could be of interest to other teams.)

 

Game #54 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Taylor Baird is the editor of DefendingBigD. com. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorDBaird.

The Stars have had something of the same wonky start that the Hawks have. Why hasn’t Hitchcock’s charms worked miracles yet (we’re not exactly Hitch fans, if you can’t tell)? 
It’s not just a coach and his system that was overhauled this offseason. The Stars have several new faces this year, and some old faces that have struggled mightily so far (::side-eyes Jason Spezza::) It’s a lot to juggle while learning what this system needs every night. Their start reflects that.
On the plus side, John Klingberg is nearly a point-per-game, and his metrics have bounced back to where they were two seasons ago. He definitely had a dip last year, what’s been different this campaign?
It’s maybe more a continuance of the end of his previous season. After Klingberg got over his struggles, and found a consistent partner that complemented him in Esa Lindell, he played well down the stretch. He brought that confidence into this season.
The Stars have a secondary scoring problem. Radulov, Seguin, Benn, and Klingberg all have over 20 points, but no one else has over 11. Who needs to pick it up? 
Jason Spezza is the key to secondary scoring, and he has been very snake bitten to start the season. Radek Faksa, who had himself a good night against Vegas with a hat trick, would be another pick as someone that needs to step up (and when he does, natural hat tricks occur. Who knew?) 
We like to ask about our lost boy Stephen Johns. It felt like Lindy Ruff completely underrated him even while giving him human shield starts and competition. What does he look like under Hitch? 
He has been up and down this season, but that’s not exactly surprising given the way the Stars have played so far as a whole. It feels like he’s really stepped up after Marc Methot went down with injury. He is one player that I believe will benefit from Hitchcock’s system, and it’s possible that we are starting to see it consistently now.
 
Ben Bishop has disappointed since coming over in the summer. What’s been his problem? Is the Dallas crease just cursed?
Whoever stuck a pin in the Dallas goaltender voodoo doll, we’d like to have a word with you. Bishop looks better to the eyeball than his stats may show. It’s because he makes the key saves in the key moment, something that doesn’t show on a box score. He’s been the reason the Stars haven’t been slaughtered in some games, and he’s the reason the Stars are often still in others. He’s rarely been the reason for a loss. The guys in front of him have struggled and therefore he has at times too. But overall, I personally feel more confident with Bishop in net – a feeling that’s been missing in Dallas for a few seasons now.
Everything Else

carls jr star vs evil empire

Game Time: 7:30PM
TV/Radio: CSN, SportsNet Pacific, WGN-AM 720
Jim Nill’s Liberator: Defending Big D

While tonight would be a premiere matchup between the conference’s top two teams jostling for inside position for the division, and both playing a high-octane brand of hockey, none of that is receiving top billing. Even Johnny Oduya’s return to the building after being a key role player on two Stanley Cup teams is a footnote.

Because tonight is Patrick Sharp’s first regular season game in the United Center as a visitor in over ten years.

Everything Else

oldschool at carls jr star

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Dale Hansen Rules: Defending Big D

A scatterbrained, slapped-together late season road trip has the Hawks now turning south from Manhattan to Texas tonight before turning back east for games against Carolina and Philly. And the Hawks find themselves thrust back into the conversation for the Central while the Stars are all but eliminated.

Everything Else

McClure took you through the local hockey club’s actions on the opening day of free agency, as I was too busy passing out from every Belgian attack (I passed out a lot). So I thought I’d clean up what went on around the league.

Central Matters

First, it’s probably best to look closer to home and that’s in the Central division. The big move was Jason Spezza going to the Stars for pretty much nothing. One aspect that didn’t get mentioned a whole lot is how this move slots The Ginger Ninja, Cody Eakin, down into the 3rd center role. That’s where he’s supposed to be and don’t be shocked if he becomes one of the better 3rd centers in the West.

Everything Else

Senator Kelly vs AltLogo

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Et Tu, Brute?: Silver Seven Sens

After a nice rebound victory on the tail end of a home and home with Minnesota, the Hawks will now have the Senators to face less than 24 hours later. Meanwhile, the Sens have been off since a 5-2 pecker slapping at home at the hands of the Sharks, and have not been on United Center ice in nearly three years, since January of 2011.