Sunday was another tough game for the Dallas Stars as they lost their third-straight game against the Minnesota Wild. It was a game that had a fitting conclusion — if you’re a Wild fan — as Mikko Koivu scored the game-winning goal in a shootout. While it is another frustrating conclusion for the NHL’s hottest team, they were able to grind out a point in the standings.
“To come in here and get one (point), it’s something to build off of,” Blake Comeau said in a post-game interview. “Now we’ve got to get ready for Winnipeg.”
Captain Jamie Benn delivered similar comments in his interview, saying the Stars need to keep trying to get points.
The sky isn’t falling in Dallas by any means and these losses are probably nothing more than a small stain on a great season turnaround. However, the Stars need to figure out how to get back in the win column as quickly as possible. The St. Louis Blues are starting to rebuild their lead in the brutal Central Division and the Stars have slid back into a Wildcard position. Over the month of December, the team has a few things to consider in order to have a Merry Christmas.
Getting a Fast Start
The Stars are founded on their defense but they needs to redefine what being a defense-first team means. During the hot streak, the Stars scored first in 11 straight games. But once that trend came to an end, the results changed. All of Dallas’ last three opponents have scored first and two of those teams scored in the first period. Digging out of a hole is not something the Stars need to be doing. This team is built to build leads, lean on their defense and then capitalize off opponents’ mistakes.
The Stars can get off this train by creating more quality shot chances. In the last three games, the team has been behind in shots on goal during the first period.
Comparing the shot maps between the Chicago Blackhawks and Blues games, you’ll notice that Stars’ defensemen are creating more shot opportunities on one side of the blue line. Adding pressure on both sides of the back can increase Dallas’ shots on goal and create rebound opportunities for the forwards. Miro Heiskanen already has six goals on the season — he can add to his total by going long distance. John Klingberg found success on the less-visited side against Minnesota in the second period Sunday.
Another way for the Stars to get off to a fast start is to limit early turnovers. So far this season, Dallas is minus-92 in turnover margin. The Stars have had to make-up the turnover battle in two of the last three games in the second period. It goes without saying, but any time a team is negative in the turnover department, they’re setting themselves up for failure. Dallas needs to put a priority on puck protection and making better passes moving forward.
Finding Roope Hintz Answers
The Stars are loaded with forwards and Roope Hintz has found the back of the net more times than any of them. However, there is a troubling stat the Stars need to solve with him — the team’s win percentage when he’s in the game. When Hintz is in the lineup, Dallas is below .500.
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While all the blame does not reside solely on Hintz, there are two statistics that could resolve the issue — goals per game and assists. Since he returned, the Stars are averaging 1.6 goals in regulation per game. The fall is a drastic difference between the near-four goals a game the Stars were scoring prior. Hintz also has only contributed two assists for the entire season.
With the Stars line juggling with off-and-on injuries, adding some consistency to the offense could improve his game and unlock some hidden potential. The first line is probably not the best place for him. It’s not a knock on his talent, but a testimony of the solid play between Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Justin Dowling up front. Hintz is probably best served at second-line center with Denis Gurianov and Alexander Radulov on the wings. He is a developing player and needs time to build chemistry between linemates. The more comfortable he gets working the same line should improve him as a passer and up the goal production from his teammates.
Attention to Detail Late
In all of the last three games, the Stars were in it late but failed to come home with a win. Twice, Radulov committed late penalties that faulted the Stars chances to win. The first time was against Chicago, when the Stars were behind but building momentum. The second was Sunday against Minnesota. Radulov committed a holding penalty late that allowed the Wild to score a goal and force overtime. Against St. Louis, after Hintz tied the game, the defense went soft and allowed a late goal that gave the Blues the win.
These late-game mistakes have to be corrected for the Stars to get back in the win column. When Dallas is down late in games or has the lead, attention to details and not taking the foot off the gas pedal will buy the team traction in the division.