The Dallas Stars have failed to win consecutive games since returning from the short Christmas break – their last streak came against Montreal, Minnesota and Chicago between December 19-22.
Since then, the Stars have a record of 5-7-3 – following their narrow win over Calgary on Monday – which is one of the worst post-Christmas records in the league, only Edmonton and Montreal have fewer wins at four each. Despite this, Dallas still lead the Goals For column, with 162.
Slumping star players
After 50 Dallas games, their top five point scorers are: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza and John Klingberg. The first two combine for an incredible 111 points, then Sharp and Klingberg post 40 points each, and Spezza has 39.
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Since restarting after Christmas, three of these five have reduced their points per game (PPG) production – by quite a drastic amount. Seguin has sunk from scoring an average of 1.34 PPG to a woeful 0.47.
His captain, Jamie Benn, has seen his production fall from 1.31 PPG to just 0.80. Then high scoring defensemen John Klingberg has slumped from 0.91 PPG to 0.53.
Patrick Sharp’s 13 points – since returning from Christmas – has earned him a PPG boost, going from 0.77 to 0.87. Spezza has seen a slight turn in form as he hits a 0.80 PPG, rising from 0.77.
Defending Big D also finds that it’s not just the star players that have slumped, but actually the vast majority of the team. They record that only five of 22 Dallas players have been playing well – Sharp, Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Mattias Janmark and Antoine Roussel – so maybe it’s not just a dry streak for the stars of line 1.
Post-Christmas, both special teams have seen a fall in success rate. Since the slump began, up to January 26, the Stars’ 15.4% powerplay percentage ranks just 20th, and their penalty kill percentage has sunk to 23rd in the rankings with 79.1%.
In a post-match interview, following the 3-1 defeat to Colorado, Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff said that he may need to mix up the powerplay lines to overcome their recent shortcomings:
"That first [power-play] unit, we may have to shake it up," explained.
"It's gotten a little bit stale. It's gotten a little bit slow, not real quick on the entries and not generating enough opportunities."
Ruff also defended his powerplay tactics, saying that he’ll continue to use just one defenseman instead of two:
"You look at the shorthanded goals, there's always some risk involved when you're playing four forwards.
“I take that risk and that risk in on me because I just feel that's the best opportunity for us."
Trust in the wrong keeper
Antti Niemi was acquired in the off-season to not only give Kari Lehtonen a better back-up, but to also give him some competition. Instead, the Stars’ goalkeeping situation has turned into more of a Niemi-biased tandem.
Prior to the Christmas break, Niemi had a record of 15-5-2 – one of which was a six-minute appearance against Carolina where he didn’t face a single shot – with a save percentage (SV%) of 0.869%. Lehtonen, on the other hand, was 11-2-0, with an SV% of 0.923%.
Since Christmas, Niemi’s SV% has risen, whilst Lehtonen’s has fallen. Niemi has gone up to 0.899%, but his record has sunk to 3-4-3. Lehtonen’s SV% has sunk to 0.900% – which is marginally better than Niemi – and has a superior win percentage with his 2-3-0 record.
When the Stars are playing well or in a slump, Lehtonen outperforms Niemi. At the start of the season, the first 20 games were distributed quite evenly – Niemi started 11 and Lehtonen started nine.
Antti Niemi recorded six wins, lost three and was pulled from the other game. Kari Lehtonen’s only loss in his nine games – and one relief appearance – came when he relieved Niemi.
Dallas have distributed their net duty the wrong way round, and Kari Lehtonen should be given a decent streak in goal.
Can they turn it around?
The individual points scored by Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are only trumped by Chicago’s Patrick Kane - who has an incredible 73 points already. Then, Patrick Sharp, John Klingberg and Jason Spezza rank in the top 30 for points. So yes, of course they can turn it around.
They may just need a shake up in the lines, as Lindy Ruff stated, or to trust in Lehtonen more often. Hopefully, the All-Star break will give them time to recuperate and return to their winning ways.