Special teams saw a complete overhaul for the Dallas Stars this offseason, with the new coaching staff putting their systems in place. The historically bad Stars penalty kill of a year ago is a distant memory, and a delightful one at that, for fans and players alike.
The Stars penalty kill currently ranks 3rd in the NHL at 90%. A year ago the Stars were a league worst 73.9%. Many factors can be accredited for the improvement. The players on the ice are now the Stars best players. At first an unusual sight, players like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Jason Spezza feature regularly on the kill. The Stars also have controlled the faceoff circle. Each of the previous mentioned players hold at least a 54% win rate meaning the opponents are having a harder time establishing possession in the zone. Ben Bishop has been one of the Stars best players to start the year, his 2.09 goals against average ranks 7th out of goalies who have played multiple games, and .928 save percentage is 13th. The old cliché is your goaltender is your best penalty killer and early in the season that has been very true. The coaching stylistic changes mean players are selling out defensively more than ever before in recent years for the Stars. The reluctance to take chances breaking out of the zone has limited odd man rushes and the shot blocks are trending upwards.
On the offensive end, the power play has looked strong with all the firepower it offers. At 26.1% the Stars rank 6th in the NHL, an improvement from the 20th overall power play a year ago. The team seems much more consistent in zone entries this year meaning the highly skilled players are getting more chances and converting more. The improved face offs have also been a beneficial factor. The Stars also have two highly skilled quarterbacks, meaning the drop off from the first to second unit is not as significant. Both John Klingberg and Julius Honka have quarterbacked effective power plays in the past and it looks to continue this season.
The Stars combined special teams rating is near the top of the NHL and the success has followed with wins in five of the last six for Dallas. The controlled structure play of Ken Hitchcock has been as welcomed change as the Stars have looked dominant in every phase of the game.