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Behind Enemy Lines: Dallas Stars dealing with missed expectations

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The Hurricanes Travel to Dallas for Last Game Before Bye Week

NHL: Dallas Stars at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As the Carolina Hurricanes enter American Airlines Center in Dallas for their only visit to the Dallas Stars this season, they face a far different team from the one who rolled to the Western Conference’s best record just one season ago. With injuries to Jason Spezza, reliable blue-liner Johnny Oduya, and veteran winger Ales Hemsky, the Stars have not shined nearly as bright in 2016-2017 under head coach Lindy Ruff. Currently sitting at 21-24-10, and in sixth place in the Central Division, the Stars have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments on the campaign.

While there are always a number of causes for a disappointment of this nature in the NHL, so often it can be traced back to keeping the puck out of your own net. And the Stars are no different, as they have allowed a robust 175 goals (29th worst in the league) on the season. The goalie tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have each hovered at a sub-par .901 and .902 save percentage respectively, and do so while facing over 30 shots per game on average.

But goal prevention and goaltending alone do not tell the story of the Stars’ struggles. Last season, the Stars were a below average 19th in the league in goals against. The difference in that season was that the Stars led the league with an explosive and varied attack, led by captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and scored an NHL-best 267 goals last season. This season, the Stars are around a league average offensive team, as they are currently 14th in the NHL in scoring. Good enough with a solid team game, not nearly enough when your defense and goaltending can’t stop a nose bleed.

Currently the Stars are mired in a four-game losing streak. Today’s matinee (2 p.m. EST start) is the first of back-to-back and three games in four days for the Stars. Offensively for the Stars, Benn and Seguin are still the high-powered options they were from last season. Seguin leads the team with 51 points and 20 goals, while Benn has added 47 points in 51 games, which is solid, but below his pace of the past two seasons in which he had 87 and 89 points.

Where the real issue comes is in the secondary scoring. Veteran winger and former Hurricane Patrick Eaves has chipped in with a very solid 33 points thus far, the highest season output of his career already, but beyond that surprise there is very little up front to be excited about. The injury to Spezza certainly has had an effect, as he had accumulated 31 points until his upper body injury last week shelved him for what could be an extended period. John Klingberg still serves as a potent offensive defenseman, but the depth of scoring simply is not there for the Stars to compete on a nightly basis with the goal-prevention they have been providing.

As we near the trade deadline, it is fair to wonder which of these veteran pieces in Dallas may be headed to another destination to finish off the 2017 season. It is highly likely that the team the Canes face today in Dallas will bear little resemblance to the one they encounter on the Stars’ return trip to Raleigh on April Fool’s Day.

For the Canes, it is crucial to start fast in this final game before their bye week. Grabbing two points against a down-trodden team is part of the recipe that will allow them to hang around the playoff discussion in the East. Pressuring the Stars defensive players in their own zone and creating turnovers should lead to plentiful chances and allow ample opportunities for the Canes to cash in and come away with a victory, and a chance to go into the week-long break with a good taste in their mouths for the stretch drive.

What to Watch For

  • Scoring first against a team who is struggling obviously sounds like a recipe for success. That is even more apparent with the Stars who are a feeble 5-23-1 when their opponent scores first. Get on them early and give them every reason to shut it down.
  • Dallas is 18th in the league in team face-off percentage (Carolina is sixth). Controlling the puck off draws should be yet another advantage for the Canes. Let’s see if that trend continues.
  • The Hurricanes Power Play started to show some life recently, and they could be presented with a great opportunity today. The Stars hold the 29th worst Penalty Kill unit, with a kill percentage of just 73.77%. Capitalizing with the man advantage is important today.
  • Stopping Seguin and Benn has to be priority number one for Canes coach Bill Peters. Without the advantage of last change, managing minutes and lines will be crucial to ensure that Seguin and Benn do not prey on the back end of the Canes roster and deal with the likes of stopper Jaccob Slavin as much as possible.