Pete DeBoer has harped on a few things during his short tenure in Dallas. Among those are compete, pace, and intensity. In the first 12 games or so, the Stars were near picture-perfect in all three areas.
Dallas led in all but one game, mostly by two or more goals. They were scoring at will. And most importantly, they were playing a heavy, lockdown style of defense that forced teams to play in their own end and take chances off the rush.
Over the last four games, however, that trend has shifted.
The Stars have allowed five goals in three of the four games, losing all three. While the number of goals is concerning, it’s the way they are going in that is the main problem.
The issue is the intensity and compete level of defending around their own net. Rather than boxing out, finding a body, and forcing the play to the outside, Dallas has been reaching and defending with their sticks. That defending has translated to poor breakouts, and both have cost them.
In the 5-1 loss to Winnipeg, Mark Scheifele scored two goals that just shouldn’t happen. Here is one of them:
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First, Kyle Connor should never be allowed to circle the zone and hang onto the puck while he waits for an opening. Second, there is no reason Scheifele should be open on the backdoor or that the pass should get there at all.
Jani Hakanpaa and Esa Lindell are in good position while Connor is up top, but once he drives down the flank, Hakanpaa loses his man and both guys end up covering the same Jets forward. The Jets also scored on an open seam pass and a tip in front with no coverage in the game.
In the 5-4 loss to San Jose Friday, it was much of the same. The Sharks scored their second goal off of a Stars turnover. But even with the puck error, Dallas should have still been in position to stop the play. Instead, they allowed the Sharks forward to win the race to the puck, slap it in front, and Evgeny Svechnikov was left all alone to tap it in.
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At the start of the second period, San Jose scored two goals in 36 seconds. Neither should have even been scoring chances.
On the first, the Stars got ahead of themselves and left Timo Meier wide open in the slot after a turnover. Again, the numbers were in their favor, but the coverage was way off.
On the second goal, every player in black gets focused on the puck, allowing Logan Couture to stand alone on the backdoor and slam home an easy goal.
Colin Miller is the prime suspect here as he heads toward the puck carrier rather than finding the open man on the backside. He recognizes immediately that he made the wrong decision and tries to spin back, but in the NHL, that is always going to be too late.
Finally, in Tampa, the Stars scored four goals but lost for the second time in three games. Two of the Bolts five goals were particularly alarming.
On Ross Colton’s first-period goal, the Stars have the clear numbers advantage in front of their own net (3v2). Not only do they allow former Star Vladislav Namestnikov to win the puck battle and get a shot on Jake Oettinger, but the rebound also falls right to an uncovered Ross Colton, who has Jamie Benn, Ty Dellandrea, and Esa Lindell staring at him as he dunks the puck into an open net.
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Rather than A: winning the battle, B: tying up each man in front, and C: communicating, the Stars get spinning around and try to make contact with just the puck, not eliminating any Shark skaters. Again, it cost them.
Nick Paul’s power-play goal was a bit different. This came down to a one-on-one stick battle between Paul and Roope Hintz. Hintz appeared to be reaching and fading away as he tried to lift Paul's stick, rather than staying strong on his stick, which is exactly what Paul did. The result: you get the picture.
"WHAT A GOAL BY NICK PAUL" #DALvsTBL
He literally does it all to put the Bolts ahead, as called by @DaveMishkin and Braydon Coburn.
— Lightning Radio (@BoltsRadio) November 16, 2022
DeBoer summed it up well after the game:
“There’s some things we’ve got to clean up,” he said. “I thought we were a little soft around our own net with second and third opportunities, which is something that is uncharacteristic for us.”
For a team that was so solid defensively to start the year, it is alarming how much their compete and mental focus have faded on that side of the ice. The bad news: it is a mystery as to why this lapse has occurred. The good news: it should be easily solved by the staff and leadership group once it is identified.