If you are considered a Stanley Cup contender this season, there’s probably no statistic you want to be mentioned in the same breath as the San Jose Sharks, who did not register a win until their 12th game of the season. (Side note: that was supposed to come in game 13, when they faced off against the spiraling Edmonton Oilers, because who doesn’t love chaos in the NHL? Way to ruin it, Philadelphia Flyers.)
But that is exactly where the Dallas Stars find themselves.
After their 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday, a statistic was uncovered: the Stars, with their five (5) first period goals, were only beaten by the Sharks with their four (4) for the least amount of goals scored in the opening frame of hockey games. (They’ve since tied the Stars at five, pushing that ranking down to tied for dead-last in the NHL.)
Is it a lack of shots on goal? A timidness to take the game plan to the opposition? Getting out-goalied?
“I’m sure it’s a bit of everything,” Stars forward Jason Robertson said. “I don’t remember, but I know in my career here, we’ve had something similar like this where we just couldn’t get a couple of goals in the first period. We worked our way out of it. But our power play is three goals, four goals — definitely that needs to pick up. That contributed to it. Guys are trying out there, just can’t find one.”
Looking at shot attempts first, the Stars fall slightly below league average in the first periods, but not so far off the pace that it would explain the dearth of goals scored.
So what about actual shots that get registered as on net?
The Stars rank 21st in that category, around the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Buffalo Sabres (not currently in the playoffs), Bruins, Washington Capitals (not currently in the playoffs), Calgary Flames (scraping the barrel of the bottom of the West), and slightly higher than the league-leading Vegas Golden Knights. So….kind of a mixed bag of teams there.
It’s just a very weird phenomenon happening in first periods. This appears to be a second period team: they rank 10th in goals scored in middle frames, and the number of shots they have doesn’t uptick that much when you evaluate it across the season so far. But something does stick out sharply here: the finishing percentage in the first period is more than half that of the other two periods.
So maybe it is being out-goalied in those first periods that’s causing this head-scratching component of the Stars’ game early in the season.
“I think when we don’t start as well, it’s easy to kind of pick it up and realize you’ve maybe not been playing your best,” Stars forward Wyatt Johnston said. “But that’s definitely not something we want to have to do. We don’t want to have to wake ourselves up after the first period. I think having good starts is huge, and it’s a lot easier to play with the lead rather than having to come back into games.”
If the Stars want to continue to be mentioned as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders after being labeled as such in the offseason, they’ll need to pick up this aspect of their game as the season progresses. Because while you cannot lose games entirely in the first 20 minutes, having to constantly push because you are playing from behind will wear on the team as the season hits the stretch run next spring.
And that is definitely not a recipe for a long playoff run success.