Training camps opened Monday, so it is time to start sizing up NHL teams and their chances of advancing in this rushed post season.
The Dallas Stars are among four teams that will be playing in a round-robin scramble for one of the top seeds in the NHL West.
What are the Stars’ chances to make a strong run? Let’s take a look at who they play and what they need to do.
Site and Schedule
There are factors on both sides of the ledger when you consider the Stars chances.
The good news is the new start itself. If you recall, the Stars were riding a six-game losing streak when COVID-19 took hold, and the NHL hit the pause button on the season in mid March. A reset will help.
It is also good that they get to head north to Edmonton for the NHL playoffs. With the pandemic getting worse in Texas, the long trip looks better. The Stars will be sweating out virus-test results for the next couple of weeks before shipping out.
Looking at their NHL West round-robin schedule, you can see some pluses for the Stars chances, too. They open against Vegas on Aug. 3, face Colorado on Aug. 5, and wrap up the round against St. Louis on Aug. 9.
The good news here is that the Stars have no games on back-to-back days, and they get a nice rest before taking on the most formidable foe, the Blues.
The Stars are the underdogs of the group, according to most experts and the oddsmakers in Las Vegas. That can be a positive if you consider that the six-game losing streak dropped them a rung or two down the NHL West ladder. And that was after handling a challenging January and February.
When you look at the season head-to-head matchups, the Stars chances look better. They were a collective 6-3-2 against the three teams – 4-0-0 vs. Colorado, 1-0-1 vs. Vegas, and 1-3-1 vs. St. Louis.
The caveat here is that seven of those games were decided by one goal and all but one closely contested, that being a 5-1 loss to the Blues.
Big D for Defense
When you get down to strategy and stats, one thing leans clearly in the Stars favor – defense.
Dallas ranks second in the NHL behind the Boston Bruins in defense this season.
Part of that is in the luxury of having two solid goaltenders, Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. But a big part is also the fact that interim coach Rick Bowness has continued a system that former coach Jim Montgomery initiated.
He has good people to execute the system, no doubt. Defenseman Miro Heiskanen is a +13 in the +/- category, and he’s contributed 35 points along the way, third on the team.
The Stars will miss Roman Polak, the veteran defender who opted out to sign with a team at his home in Czech Republic. But guys like Andrej Sekera, Taylor Fedun and a host of others should take up any slack.
The Need to Score
The Stars chances would be even better if they had an offense to match. But scoring goals has certainly not been their forte this season.
In fact, the Stars rank last in scoring among all 24 NHL teams that have
made it to the Canada rounds. They have had to rely on the breakthrough performance of rookie Denis Gurianov to keep them going. He has 20 goals this year to lead the team.
That’s right, the youngster has outscored the more-seasoned Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, all whom have contributed, but not exactly at career pace. Really, Corey Perry should have more than five goals at this point.
Until those players start putting more in the back of the net, the Stars chances are slim.
So the Dallas Stars have their work cut out for them in Edmonton. If they take these games in the round robin one at a time, they stand a decent chance of being seeded second – maybe even first – when they go into the elimination series.
A one or two seed would set them up for even bigger things down the road.