The Dallas Stars were completely outplayed in their second round-robin game against the Colorado Avalanche in the 2020 Playoffs. The Avalanche won 4-0 Avalanche, but it could have been double digits. The Stars failed to convert offensively and defensively, weren’t nearly good enough. They entered the round-robin as the 4th seed and it looks like they will stay there unless they can turn their fortunes around against the top team in the Western Conference (at the time of the pause), the St. Louis Blues. Despite their poor effort, there were some key takeaways after the Stars’ second game.
1. Khudobin Better Than Bishop
Goaltender Ben Bishop was disappointing in the first round-robin game against the Vegas Golden Knights, but Anton Khudobin fared a bit better against the Avalanche. Bishop posted a .875 save percentage, while Khudobin .900. According to Evolving Hockey, Bishop’s goals saved above expected (GSAx) was -1.11, while Khudobin’s was .53. Considering how lopsided this game was, it’s remarkable that Khudobin was able to post a positive GSAx. He had a better GSAx this season at 6.2 than Bishop’s 5.7.
Khudobin deserves the next start. He’s been the better goalie this season and better in the round-robin. Bishop was listed as “unfit to play” in this game so his status for the final game is unclear. Head coach Rick Bowness hasn’t made any announcement about who will start the last game, but I’ll be surprised if it isn’t Bishop, based on his playoff track record. Either goalie is capable and, ultimately, it is up to the whole team to play better defensively.
2. Thomas Harley Made His NHL Debut
Defenseman John Klingberg was deemed “unfit to play,” so Stars’ top defensive prospect Thomas Harley made his NHL debut. He played a team-low 11 minutes in a sheltered role and registered one hit, one block, zero shots, and no points. Despite the limited role, he looked pretty good, especially considering how bad the team looked as a whole.
He had good mobility, made good decisions with the puck, and created space for his linemates. The future is bright for the 2019 18th-overall pick, and it’s exciting that he didn’t look out of place on the ice. Harley will be too young for the AHL in 2020-21 and has proved what he can in the OHL, so he should get a long look to stick on the Stars roster, and this experience will help his case.
3. Where Did the Offense Go?
Not known for their offensive play, the Stars have gone five periods without scoring a goal in the 2020 Playoffs. All three goals against the Golden Knights came in the second period. Against the Avalanche, the Stars generated 2.91 expected goals, so the fact that they didn’t score means they were a bit unlucky and that goaltender Pavel Francouz was pretty good. The Stars had 2.49 expected goals against the Golden Knights, so they probably got a bit lucky in that game to score three times. Bowness seems to think he knows how to fix the offense:
Giving some credit to the Avalanche is fair, they are a great team with the third-highest chances to win the Cup according to oddsshark.com. In fact, the Stars’ two opponents in the round-robin have the best odds to win the Cup from the Western Conference. Regardless of who they play, the Stars need to raise their compete level and take better advantage of their opportunities.
4. Tyler Seguin Was Better
After struggling in his first game back, his second since the pause, Tyler Seguin was much better. This is an encouraging sign. As the best offensive player on the team, he needs to get going if the Stars have any chance in these playoffs. While he didn’t score, his individual expected goals of 0.68 were second only to Nathan MacKinnon (.86) on the night. If Seguin continues to generate as much as he did in this game, and the defense can play better, the Stars have a chance.
One of the differences was that Seguin, who continues to be paired with captain Jamie Benn, had Denis Gurianov swapped for Roope Hintz. Benn-Seguin-Gurianov was not good against the Golden Knights, and their expected goal (xG) rates were really bad (xG is a measure of expected goals against per 60 minutes versus expected goals for per 60 minutes). As you can see above, swapping Hintz for Gurianov made a huge difference for Seguin. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come for Seguin.
On to St. Louis
The Stars were 1-3-1 against the Blues this season with their only win in overtime on Feb. 8. The Blues looked every bit like the defending champions in their round-robin game, so things will not get any easier for the Stars. Luckily, they do have three days off to prepare for their 3rd and final round-robin game, so hopefully, they can get it together before Sunday, Aug. 9.