The Dallas Stars wrapped up their road trip on Thursday with an embarrassing 6-1 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the loss, the Stars fell to 9-9-1 on the season including a road record of 3-7-1. In their past five games played, the Stars have gone 1-3-1.
Final: Lightning 6, Stars 1
Stars are 9-9-1 including 3-7-1 on the road.
— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) November 17, 2017
Stars Struggling to Win on the Road
The National Hockey League’s schedule is relentless, often giving teams no time to reflect on their past games before turning the page to the next one. This is the exact case for Dallas, especially in the highly competitive Central Division. Last season the Stars were one of the worst teams in the NHL, and this season was set to be their big turnaround. It did seem that way indeed for the first couple of weeks of the season, but the Stars have found themselves struggling lately, with road play being their toughest challenge yet. On their latest road trip, the Stars dropped games to the Carolina Hurricanes (5-1), the Florida Panthers (4-3 in shootout), and the Lightning (6-1). There is no need to become discouraged; there is plenty of games to go, but if they wish to avoid a major slump, some things need to change.
Scoring is the first thing that needs to pick up. The top three scoring leaders on the Stars are Jamie Benn (10 goals, 9 assists), Tyler Seguin (8 goals, 9 assists), and Alexander Radulov (6 goals, 11 assists). Looking at those numbers initially, it is great to see the super-stars performing well, but the problem lies in the fact that all three of those players play on the first line together a majority of the time. Therefore, the other three lines are not producing. Looking at the Stars stats so far this season, one could see that players that play on the other three lines are not nearly producing as much as they should be, with guys like Jason Spezza, Esa Lindell, Martin Hanzal and Radek Faksa all clocking in at eight points or less.
Any hockey fan and player for that matter knows that in order to win and see success, all four lines, as well as the defense needs to contribute night in and night out. The Stars are struggling to do so, and their bout with inconsistency, which was highly prevalent last year, is becoming more and more recognizable. The solution to this problem is very difficult to fix. It is not one of those things where one small thing changes the overall outcome for everyone. Head coach Ken Hitchcock needs to start shuffling lines in order to build more chemistry, but aside from that, the players need to start stepping up and contributing. There is still plenty of time to turn things around, so there is no need to worry, but it would be highly beneficial to start scoring now.
“We can be better. We can live in the dream world that it’s unfair, but we are what we are,” said Stars coach Ken Hitchcock to NHL.com. “We are giving up way too many goals. On this trip, we gave up 14 or 15 goals. You can’t do that. You can’t play this way and be successful. So that’s the base we have to start from; we have to start keeping it out of our net. We’ve got to be better defensively. We’ve got to be better across the board defensively. Let’s start from there.”
Hitch is right. The Stars gave up 15 goals in the three games road trip and only scored five. The Stars defense struggled to keep up with the highly competitive Lightning defense. The power-play struggled, with one of the six goals coming on the man-advantage and another coming right after the kill. In the third period, the Bolts poured it on, netting three goals and putting the game away. Ben Bishop was left out to dry and the game become hard to watch immediately.
“It was a poor effort out there tonight. We hung our goalie out to dry in his big return to his old team,” said Benn to NHL.com. “It was just more embarrassing hockey.”
The Stars return home on Saturday to face the Edmonton Oilers, another high caliber offense, but one that has struggled this season as well. This will be a good test for the Stars, and a victory here will prove to be a great stepping stone back on the right path.