Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars could not overcome injuries, road struggles

Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is congratulated by teammate Jason Spezza after an overtime shootout win. The Stars finished the season 34-37-11.
Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is congratulated by teammate Jason Spezza after an overtime shootout win. The Stars finished the season 34-37-11. AP

Last season, the Dallas Stars led the Western Conference with 109 points during the regular season and won their first playoff series since 2008, defeating Minnesota in the first round.

Naturally, heading into this season, the bar was set high.

However, for various reasons, Dallas missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. One day later, coach Lindy Ruff was fired by general manager Jim Nill.

“We never could get a good run going,” Ruff said. “We didn’t quite have the finish we had in the previous year.”

Here’s a look at what went wrong and what went right with the Stars, which finished 34-37-11:

What went wrong

Injuries take toll

The Stars lost more than 260 man-games to injury, ranking among the top 10 in the NHL. Only three teams that have lost more games to injury this season (Anaheim, Edmonton and Pittsburgh) made the postseason. Dallas had only two players, veteran center Tyler Seguin, its lone 2017 All-Star, and rookie center Devin Shore, skate in every game. Last season, Dallas had five players, including captain Jamie Benn, play all 82 games.

A lack of offense

Last season, the Stars led the NHL with 267 goals. This season, they scored 223. Benn’s production dropped from 89 points to 69. Jason Spezza, who battled injuries earlier this season, dropped from 31 goals to 15, and from 63 points to 50. Last season, the Stars had 15 players with 20 or more points. This season, Dallas had only eight players register 20 or more points.

Poor special teams

The Stars’ special teams became a liability. Last season, Dallas had the NHL’s fourth-best power play (22.4 percent) and the 10th-best penalty kill (82.3 percent). This season, the Stars had the league’s worst penalty kill (73.9 percent) and ranked 20th in the power play (17.9 percent). The Stars were among the league leaders in allowing shorthanded goals.

Road woes magnified

Dallas concluded the road portion of this season with a 12-24-5 record, the Stars’ worst away mark since 1995-96, when they also went 12-24-5 away from American Airlines Center. The Stars also dropped off at home, posting a 22-13-6 record.

What went right

The core remains intact

It remains to be seen whether the Stars will offer Patrick Sharp, an unrestricted free agent, a new contract. Even if Sharp departs, Dallas still has its core of Benn, young defenseman John Klingberg, Seguin and Spezza all under contract for next season. Most of the other defensemen alongside Klingberg figure to return next season.

Seguin shows durability

Seguin played in all 82 games for the first time. Seguin played in 81 games for Boston in 2011-12, his second NHL season, and 80 for Dallas in 2013-14 and last season.

Young players mature

Forward Brett Ritchie had a career-high 16 goals. Center Radek Faksa built on a strong performance in the 2016 playoffs in his first full NHL season, while the durable Shore chipped in 32 points and won 47 percent of his faceoffs as a rookie. Klingberg rebounded after a slow start, while fellow defensemen Julius Honka, Esa Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak flashed potential.

Change is coming

A fresh start with a new voice might be what this group needs. Dallas will likely have at least one new goaltender next season, as its two-goal system with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi failed. The Stars will also have a high pick in the 2017 NHL draft.

Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff explains his thoughts on the new trend of NHL teams pulling their goalie earlier at the end of games (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

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