What is driving the Stars’ offensive breakout?
The Stars have pushed one of the top Stanley Cup contenders to the brink of elimination and are a win away from reaching the Western Conference Final for the first time since the 2008.
On its own nothing about that sentence should be overly shocking.
The Stars won a lot of games during the regular season, and they were at pretty much this exact same point in the playoffs a year ago.
What is surprising about their success this season is the way they are winning.
They enter Game 5 of their Second Round series against the Avalanche on Monday (9:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream) as one of the highest scoring team in the league since the 16-team playoff field began play a couple of weeks ago. Since the start of the First Round the Stars have already scored 40 goals in their 10 playoff games, and when looking at it from a goals-per-game angle there is really only one other team that has been close to them (Colorado).
To fully grasp what is happening here we need to at least consider how much the Stars struggled offensively coming into the playoffs.
- During the regular season they finished 26th in the league in goals per game, and managed just five total goals in their three Round-Robin games.
- Since the start of the 2018-19 season, the only three teams in the league that scored fewer goals per game have been the Kings, Ducks, and Red Wings -- three of the worst teams in the league.
- Over the past three years the Stars have had only one other 10-game stretch where they scored at least 40 goals, and that came earlier this season between October 28 and November 22 when they went on a 9-0-1 run. Last year they never scored more than 31 goals over any 10-game stretch.
This just isn’t something they do. When they have found success, it has typically been on the strength of goaltending and the fact they have two No. 1 defenders on their blue line in Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg.
Those factors are still there right now (Heiskanen is an early Conn Smythe contender), but they are also getting offense.
Where is that offense coming from?
The power play
This is the one area where the Stars have been very respectable offensively the past two years, finishing in the top half of the league (13th and 11th) in terms of power play success rate.
The Stars’ big problem offensively in recent years has been a lack of depth beyond their top five or six players (only three forwards had more than 30 total points a year ago). But while that depth has been a question mark, there has still been enough talent at the top of the lineup to put a functioning power play unit together.
During this 10-game run that power play unit has converted on 28.6 percent of its opportunities. Just for perspective, the top power play unit in the NHL from the regular season converted on 28.2 percent of its chances (that power play unit belonged to Tampa).
The top line is dominating again
The trio of Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin has been the Stars’ go-to line for three years now, and at times over that stretch has been the only line carrying them.
They are starting to do that again.
Over the past 10 games that trio has spent nearly 100 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together, a stretch that has seen them outscore their opponents by a 9-2 margin and completely dictate the pace of the game in terms of shot attempts and scoring chances. Seguin hasn’t really started to pile up points just yet, but Benn and Radulov have been outstanding over the past two weeks.
They found some secondary help
The Stars spent big over the summer on Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry with the hopes they could solve some of the secondary scoring issues. And while Pavelski had a slow start and did not come close to matching his 40-goal performance from a year ago, he has been everything the Stars could have hoped for in the playoffs with seven goals in the first 13 games.
Keep in mind, the Stars played 13 playoff games a year ago and did not have a single player score more than five goals in those games.
Then there is Denis Gurianov, probably the most overlooked player on this team -- maybe within the team itself. The rookie finished the regular season as the Stars’ leading goal-scorer (20) despite averaging just a little more than 12 minutes of ice-time per game and only being a secondary part of the power play. His role has increased a little in the playoffs (still only 14 minutes per game) and is, again, leading the team in goals (8).
The fact the Stars’ top-two goal scorers in the playoffs are NOT a part of their top line is perhaps the most encouraging development for them because it means that top trio does not have to be counted on to carry the offense. Add in players like Roope Hintz and Radek Faksa making an impact on the power play, and there are a lot of positives here.
Yes, there is a little of that going on here and it’s not bad a thing. Every Stanley Cup team always has some luck on its side at some point. And when your team scores on more than 11 percent of its shots over a 10-game stretch, when that team hasn’t been close to that in years, there is an element of luck to that.
Some of it is simple puck luck and shooting luck (like that Cale Makar turnover on Sunday).
Some of it is running into a couple of teams (Calgary and Colorado) that do not have the strongest goaltending. That has been especially true in this series where Pavel Francouz has struggled in place of Philipp Grubauer.