The Dallas Stars are now 6-2 in the postseason with four of those wins coming on the road against Pacific Division rivals Anaheim and San Jose. The Stars have outscored their opponents 28-17 in those eight games (giving up an average of just over two goals per game) and have looked dominant throughout most of their games. Unless San Jose can find a way to win four of the next five games the Stars will advance to the Western Conference Finals to play the winner of the Red Wings/Avalanche series.Yet, unless you are a member of the Stars organization or a Stars fan chances are you are not rooting for this team. The reason? They are boring.
Dallas has seemingly perfected a brand of defensive hockey that is horribly tedious to watch and lacks any entertainment value at all. Head coach Dave Tippett and his staff have developed a style of hockey that takes all the energy out of a playoff game and turns it into the equivalent of a cat toying with a mouse.
With about 13 minutes to play in Game Two against the Sharks the Stars simply quit trying to score. They had a one goal lead and were content to play defense and watch the clock tick. Shift after shift the Stars would gain the red line, dump the puck into the Sharks zone and then send one forechecker in after it while the other four players clogged up the neutral zone. As San Jose brought the puck up ice the Stars would pressure them and force them to dump the puck where Marty Turco retrieved it without fear of being hit or interfered with and he would then pass the puck to a teammate or clear it himself and the cycle would start again.
This style of hockey is horrible to watch and as a result there was little drama in the final 13 minutes of what should have been a thrilling game. We’re talking about a playoff game which one team has a one goal lead over the other and yet there was no excitement at all thanks to the Stars efficiency at playing the prevent defense.
Before you think I am accusing the Stars of cheating let me say that they are not the first to employ this tactic, nor will they be the last. When teams know they are not as talented offensively as their opponent they often resort to playing the trap in order to keep the game close. The Minnesota Wild have done this since they came into the league and the Anaheim Ducks played this way all the way to Game Seven of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. When you play it as efficiently as the Ducks did then, and as the Stars are now, the trap is an incredibly effective way to win hockey games.
Dallas is doing what they need to do to win games and since that’s the point you cannot blame them one bit. They are well on their way to reaching the Western Conference Finals and will most likely be one of the final four teams with a chance to win the Stanley Cup. They’ve gotten great goaltending from Marty Turco, timely scoring from just about everyone on their roster and superb defense from Stephane Robidas and the rest of their blueline.
But just because they are playing well and having success does not mean that they are fun to watch. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They are dreadful to watch. Many times at the end of Game Two I found myself yelling at the TV set because I was so frustrated with the way they were playing. If I’m that frustrated on my couch imagine how frustrated the Sharks players and coaches must be.
The biggest problem that the Sharks have is that there’s no way to consistently beat this system of hockey when it’s played at the level the Stars are playing it. If you dump the puck into the zone Turco will most likely get to it before you can and he will then clear it himself. If you try to carry it into the zone the Stars will swarm you and force you to pass it before your teammates can get open causing a turnover, which they then clear. Eight games into the playoffs and neither the Ducks nor the Sharks have found a way to generate offense against this system with any regularity.
Offensively, the Stars are waiting for their opponents to either make a mistake or to take a penalty. The Stars power play has been clicking at a 26.1% clip so far in the postseason, the best among any of the teams still alive. They also lull you to sleep with their passive forecheck so that your defenseman and forwards take for granted that they will not be pressured and they end up lazily skating back to defend which leads to scoring chances like the one Niklas Hagman scored on to make it 4-2 in the third period of Game Two.
The Stars are not employing this strategy the entire game. They start off the game playing a normal game of hockey but once they get the lead they shut things down and dare you to find a way to beat them. The Sharks had only seven shots in the third period of Game Two – was that because they weren’t trying hard enough? No. It’s because they couldn’t get control of the puck in the offensive zone in order to set up a scoring chance. Dallas wouldn’t let them.
The Stars are winning games and will most likely be one of the NHL’s Final Four by this time next week. However, their style of play leads me to believe that unlike Washington, Detroit, New York, Pittsburgh or Montreal few people are rooting for them outside of Dallas. The style of game that the Capitals, Red Wings, Rangers, Penguins and Canadiens play is fun to watch and if you do not have a rooting interest in their games you can’t help but enjoy watching them at work. The Stars, on the other hand, will lull you to sleep along with their opponents and you’ll find yourself wondering when the next Rangers/Penguins game is.
The Stars are winning games so I can’t criticize them for doing what they are doing. However, as successful as their tactics may be I do not find them entertaining to watch. No, their job is not to entertain me but rather to win games and they are doing that job very well so far. I’m not saying that I hope the Stars lose but I am saying that I hope that other teams do not follow their lead and play a style of hockey that makes a one-goal playoff gameÂ boring to watch.