There seems to be this misconception that the Stars made it back to the playoffs and to the second round of the playoffs last year because of a dynamic young roster playing entertaining hockey. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as coach Jim Montgomery authored a second-half charge by boring the utter shit out of everyone and trying to copy what Barry Trotz was doing with the Isles. They got a Vezina-finalist worthy season out of Ben Bishop, which was the main catalyst. So which way does Montgomery play this now? Stick with the effective but limited, and coma-inducing, style that got the Stars into the playoffs? Or retry finding something more expansive that might be harder to pull off but leads to bigger rewards down the line?
43-32-7 93 points (4th in Central, out in 2nd round)
2.55 GF/G (29th) 2.44 GA/G (2nd)
48.1 CF% (23rd) 50.2 xGF% (15th)
21.0 PP% (11th) 82.8 PK% (5th)
Goalies: The Stars get to return both halves of their duo this year, and it starts with THE BISHOP! Whenever Bishop is healthy, you get Vezina-level play from him. The problem is that remains a huge “if.” Bishop only made it to the post 45 times last year, and the Stars probably are going to need more from him this time around. Even if he is healthy, they’re probably not going to get .934 from him again, though they can still expect mid-.920s.
Anton Khudobin finally found success outside Boston last year, flourishing behind the heavy shielding he got from the Stars and their system (expected save-percentage of .925 at evens). Still, Khudobin’s .923 SV% was by far the best he’d managed in five seasons, and to expect him to get back to that, no matter the defensive shielding, is kind of pie-eyed. He’s also 33, so going up from where he was last campaign is probably not a probability either.
The goalies will be good. Bishop always has potential to be great. They definitely provide a floor for the Stars that they can’t fall through, which is around the bottom of the playoff picture.
Defense: Perhaps the reason Montgomery opted for the Mourinho approach to hockey was that he ended up pairing his only two puck-movers in John Klingbergy and Miro Heiskanen. That left him with only pluggers and punters on the next two pairings, so better to just ask them to do what they do best, i.e. roadblocks. The two Finns are wonderful players and really do push around most everyone they come across when together.
It’s pretty much the same crew now, though they added Andrej Sekera just in case he isn’t clinically dead (he is). Stephen Johns started camp with the Stars but started feeling his post-concussion problems again, and one might have to suggest his career is over. Jamie Oleksiak will sink to the third pairing where he belongs, to make room for any Esa Lindell growth. But it feels like we’ve been hearing about that one for a while now and still haven’t seen it. At 25 and in his fourth season, it’s definitely a “shit-now” kind of season.
It’s a fine collection even if it’s really only the two Norris candidates in Klingberg and Heikanen at the top. If Montgomery wants to show any adventure in the team, he’ll split those two up. If they’re together, we can probably guess it’s going to be more three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust hockey, if we can keep mixing our sports metaphors (and I can, it’s my fucking blog).
Forwards: The name in lights here is Joe Pavelski, whom Dough Wilson deemed surplus to requirements at the price and age he was. Which should give everyone a second of pause. At 35, Pavelski’s days in the middle probably should be over, but it’s hard to spot a center who can maximize his still top-tier finishing ability other than Tyler Seguin, who already has his wingers. Or Pavelski could play there and Jamie Benn can not-munch his way to 50 points on the second line, but again, same problem.
As it always is with the Stars, the rest of the lineup is littered with products of the system who serve merely as foot-soldiers and insurance-carriers. It would be hard to convince me that Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark aren’t all the same person that the Stars have just cleaved in half a few times and watched them regenerate into two. They’re also throwing Cory Perry to the wall to see if the slime he’s made of sticks, which it won’t. Between him and Sekera the level of zombification in the dressing room is certainly over quota.
But everyone below the top line are capable of carrying out the specific tasks that Montgomery sets out, which is keeping things tight and preventing goals. It feels like they’ll be doing that again.
Prediction: You could roll out Bishop and Khudobin by themselves and probably guarantee 85 points. So the question is whether the Stars can add much to it. Pavelski adds some juice to the offense, but there’s no Logan Couture or Tomas Hertil for him to play off as there was in San Jose. If he plays on the top line, it’s probably a little more offense than Benn would get you there now but the problem of support scoring is still there. There’s just not a lot of goals here, although there doesn’t have to be considering the goalies and defensive ways. The division hasn’t taken too many steps forward. If the Hawks had made improvements, I would say the Stars’ spot is the one they can aim for. But they haven’t. Around the 8th seed is more than possible for them again.
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