Final Report Card for the Dallas Stars' 2013-14 Season
Nick Bonino's goal early in overtime shoved the Stars rudely into the offseason. Instead of figuring out how to break through on the road in a seventh game, Lindy Ruff and his players were left to figure out what went wrong in the final minutes.
While the ending was painful and abrupt, the Stars made huge strides in 2013-14. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and demonstrated the speed and talent to be viewed as one of the league's emerging young teams.
The Stars played well down the stretch to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs and deserve high marks for their accomplishments in the 2013-14 season.
The Stars demonstrated an ability to put the puck in the net with regularity this season. This should be one of their strengths going forward as well.
The Stars averaged 2.82 goals per game this year, a figure that ranked 10th in the 2013-14 season. That represented an improvement of 10 ranking spots from last year when they averaged 2.67 goals per game.
More than the numbers, the Stars showed they were one of the fastest and most explosive teams in the league. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were able to put it in another gear and jump-start the offense on a regular basis.
Seguin, who was acquired in a huge offseason trade that sent Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith to the Boston Bruins, played up to his vast potential. He led the Stars with 37 goals and 47 assists for 84 points during the regular season, while Benn had 34 goals and 45 assists and became the team's best clutch performer.
This one-two punch was sensational, and the supporting cast was good enough to help the Stars go 8-5-0 down the stretch and clinch a playoff spot.
While the offense had more than its share of "wow" moments this year, the defense had too many "whoa" moments.
The biggest problem for the Dallas defense was a lack of depth. Head coach Lindy Ruff has three dependable defensemen in Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley and Jordie Benn, but the rest of the crew needs quite a bit of work.
Sergei Gonchar's best days are long over, while the rest of the defense crew often played a non-descript and inconsistent game.
The defense played with good effort and generally played a physical game, but there were just too many mistakes.
Here's the good news for Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen: He finished the regular season with 33 wins, a figure that was more impressive than Chicago's Corey Crawford, Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick and Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky.
Lehtonen made the big save more often than not, and that's why he was able to come up with a record of 33-20-10, a 2.41 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.
However, he struggled in the playoff matchup with the Anaheim Ducks. He was unable to hold onto a two-goal lead late in the sixth game, and that allowed the Ducks to tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime. He had a 3.29 GAA in the playoffs, and his .885 save percentage was simply not good enough.
Lehtonen is basically a decent goalie who performed well down the stretch. However, the Stars wanted to see more from him in the playoffs, and his ordinary performance will leave a sour taste over the offseason.
The Stars struggled throughout the majority of the season with their special teams, and that was one of the reasons they were forced to put on a rush at the end of the season just to capture the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The Stars went through long stretches early in the season—particularly at home—where their power play just could not put the puck in the net. They ended up scoring on 15.9 percent of their power-play attempts, which left them in 23rd place in the league.
The penalty kill was not much better. The Stars killed off 81.4 percent of their short-handed situations, 21st in the league.
Despite their ordinary overall play, the Stars have the explosive speed to have a dynamic power play in the future. Tyler Seguin led the team with 11 power-play goals, while Alex Chiasson added six with the man advantage.
Jamie Benn's ability on the power play and in short-handed situations also bodes well for the seasons ahead. His short-handed goal in Game 5 of the playoffs gave the Stars a lift, but they were unable to sustain that momentum throughout the rest of the game.
He took the rest of the year off but jumped right back into the fray when the Stars came calling and wanted him to coach their young team.
If Ruff was tired and worn out in Buffalo, he was a recharged leader who coached effectively in Dallas. He was able to harness the young talent and lead his team to the playoffs with a strong performance down the stretch.
While the Stars could not overcome the Western Conference's top-seeded Anaheim Ducks, the Stars pushed hard and extended the series to six hard-fought games.
The Stars got better as the season progressed, and they appear to be a team on the rise. They also have the right coach for the job. Ruff did a very good job during the year and should be prepared for an even better year in 2014-15.
"I was proud of the way they competed," Ruff told Mark Stepneski at the conclusion of the team's playoff series. "It’s a fun team to coach, it really is. My job now is to make them understand how hard it is to repeat it and to get better.”
There are a lot of young teams with potential that expect to make the playoffs at the start of the year.
However, when the bullets start flying and the games start to count, many of those teams learn the harsh reality that it's difficult to win consistently in the NHL and the playoffs are just a pipe dream. If you want examples, take a look at the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets. Both teams have impressive individual talent and both finished on the outside looking in.
The Stars felt good about their chances this year but quickly learned how hard it is to string wins together. But the core group of players continued to get better and play more cohesively with each passing game.
Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Alex Chiasson and Valeri Nichushkin give this team a solid core that should only get better. They were good enough to make the playoffs and push an excellent team like the Ducks to overtime of the sixth game.
The team grew from its experience this year, which included a near tragedy in March when Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench after his heart stopped beating. The team's medical staff performed admirably and were able to restore his heartbeat within seconds.
When Peverley regained consciousness, his first thoughts were about getting back into the game and helping his team. That's how much he wanted to play and how committed he was to helping his team.
It's an example of how badly this team wants to play and improve every night.