Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports
Frustrating. That's probably the best way to describe tonight's loss to Vancouver and some of the losses the Dallas Stars have taken as of late. One element of their game has been consistently hurting the team's ability to win: defense, defense, defense. It wins championships, I'm sure you've heard. You've definitely seen it (see: 1999--Hatcher, Matvichuk, Ludwig, Zubov, Sydor). You get the point.
With Kari Lehtonen out the past few games, it has become even more apparent that the Stars' defense needs work. The lack of discipline we have gotten accustomed to? Most often that can be attributed to players being out of position. Odd man rushes? Have to take away the passing lanes. Winning puck battles, smooth breakouts, and puck support are essentials to having balanced defensive play.
Starting on a light note, we can look at the young defensemen (Dillon, Oleksiak, Benn) getting big minutes and showcasing a very bright future. Besides the lack of experience which comes naturally with young players, there has been quite a bit of line shuffling and AHL call-ups/send-backs which have shaken up any chemistry the d-pairs might have.
This inconsistency, coupled with underperforming veteran players, causes a lot of problems, especially when your all-star net minder is injured (probably because he has had to face 35-40 shots a night). We know how well Alex Goligoski can perform as a positionally sound offensive defenseman. He can move the puck out of the zone, plays a solid blue line, and can be a huge power play asset. This season, we haven't seen that play out of him, which points to his mental game.
Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley have had their moments this season. Some of the "bad" penalties they have taken point to old habits and the recently strictly enforced "dump-and-interfere" call. Otherwise, we see the lack of fundamentals and subsequently, a plethora of quality scoring chances on Lehtonen, Bachman, or Nihlstorp every game via loose pucks in the slot, and uncontested cross-ice passes.
Now we hear the panic starting to surface with many; 16 games into the season and people already are questioning Goligoski's trade prospect (probably won't happen, but you never know). Will there be roster moves with some of our veterans? Maybe. It looks like Oleksiak and Benn MIGHT be ready to step up full-time which would prompt some space-making efforts in the front office. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, it's all speculation now.
The good news? I don't see the Stars totally gutting the defense-core. They don't need to. These guys can play, they just need to re-gain the confidence, get their heads into the game, and get back to basics. The better news? Brenden Dillon (get to know him here). He is playing like someone who has been around for several years after merely 18 games in the NHL. This guy has it all and is only 22 years old; he can skate, has size, plays a well-positioned/physical game, and can score.
The future looks bright for the Stars on all fronts. Hockey is 90% mental, and we know the struggling defensive game can be better with the current roster. The only way is up from here. So, don't freak out (yet).