Dallas Stars: penalty kill problems lead to current winless streak

It’s pretty frustrating keeping tabs on the Dallas Stars at the moment. But it’s for entirely different reasons than what we’ve become accustomed to. They don’t look like last year’s bunch that limped out of the gate 1-7-1. Nor do they resemble the team that hit an iceberg prior to the pandemic-mandated stoppage in play last spring.

No, this year’s Stars have been fun to watch. They look ready to play most every night, but they’re falling short in two areas that were strengths for them last season: goaltending and team defense. The goalie situation will warrant further monitoring. But I wanted to focus on the penalty killing because that–to me, at least–is what’s causing a lot of their problems right now.

The Dallas Stars’ penalty kill problems are causing some early season issues.

It doesn’t require a look deeper than the raw numbers. A dive into analytics isn’t necessary right now, especially compared to the Stars power play. That’s the shame of it, really. The Stars currently have one of the more lethal power plays in the league at 33.3%, which is good for 4th in the entire NHL. Thank center Joe Pavelski and his league-leading seven power play tallies for that.

But when it comes to the other side of the equation, the Stars’ penalty kill is only ranked 19th at 78%. It may sound okay to read that they’re killing off nearly four out of every five penalties, but when you contrast that to league-leading Colorado and their 90.5% kill rate, then it’s obvious that a considerable gap exists.

It’s not that the Stars have been especially poor in coverage. Based on watching them on a nightly basis, they’ve fallen victim to some bad bounces and broken plays. Granted, the goalkeeping–especially from Anton Khudobin–has been uncharacteristically leaky in the early going this season. Backup Jake Oettinger has been pretty strong in comparison, but it still hasn’t translated to a regulation or overtime win in the last five games. It simply seems like, for every momentum-generating lead they take, they readily give up a killer goal in return. On one hand it’s troubling. On the other, the eyeball test suggests they’re not too far away from righting the ship and making their way back into the playoff picture.

At the end of the day, that’s the silver lining. Despite their current woes, they’ve got some games in hand “thanks” to the COVID-related delay to the start of the season. The bottom line remains that the Dallas Stars are only four points out of a playoff spot in this shortened 56-game season. As frustrating as the last several games have been, their reality isn’t as bad as it may seem.

In short, I don’t see a team that just looks lost. Sure, they have their problems right now, but I don’t see a franchise in crisis like they were at times last year. They definitely need to shore up the penalty kill. That will do them wonders. But I’m also seeing a squad that can dictate games for long stretches. In other words, their problems are fixable, and I’m pretty confident the Stars will be able to remedy what ails them soon.