Skip to main content


The Stars are starting to crack


The Dallas Stars are starting to crack, and it’s the pressure from the top of the Edmonton Oilers lineup that deserves the credit.

I had three notable takeaways after the Oilers split the opening games in Dallas: that Edmonton goaltender Stuart Skinner’s rebound was a major development (he was sensational in their Game 4 win against Dallas on Wednesday night), that the Oilers powerless power play was hurting them in the series (still an issue), and that the non-Evan Bouchard pairings were the biggest concern going forward (Kris Knoblauch continues mixing his pairings on a nightly basis, a hallmark sign of a coaching staff with limited confidence).

Now, a fourth takeaway after Game 4: The top of the Oilers lineup is giving the Stars absolute fits in a fashion we haven’t seen before in this postseason. And that’s a statement, considering this is a Stars team that already has collected the heads of the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche, two bona fide Stanley Cup contenders.

First, let’s consider Dallas’ even-strength performance against Edmonton (through four games) versus their respective matchups against Vegas and Colorado. I consider the talent gaps across these four teams razor thin, which I think puts a feather in the cap of Knoblauch’s team so far:

Four games in, the Stars are one goal ahead of the Oilers at even strength, but much of that is because the Stars are shooting better than 13 per cent – such is life when so many of your scoring chances are from the circles and the low slot, where goal-scoring probabilities skyrocket. The Stars forwards deserve credit for that; the Oilers blueline and the team’s general defensive structure, similarly, has earned their share of criticism.

But this series is different. Dallas has been able to create real friction in Edmonton’s defensive zone, but they have not slowed the Oilers attackers down the way they did to the two opponents before them. Whereas Dallas held Vegas and Colorado to expected goal rates near their regular season average (which is downright remarkable), Edmonton has picked them apart:

Much of the pressure, and much of Edmonton’s advantage play created this series, is coming from their best players. This is the positive side of the double-edged sword the Oilers organization always seems to carry – while so much of what beleaguers this team concerns the depth of the roster and how it fares against better competition, so much of what drives this team is their best units are simply better than the best units from around the league. That statement has held true even measured against the standard of an elite team like the Dallas Stars.

Just look at where the bloodiest head-to-head matchups have played out through the first four games of the series: it’s been the McDavid line and the Bouchard pairing steamrolling Dallas’ best:

There are no shortage of ways to look at this series and arrive at scenarios where the Oilers are leading three games to one at minimum – they have been decisively the better team where it matters most (at even strength), and they have won two of the first four games while getting nothing from the deadliest power-play unit in the league.

While Dallas has reliably looked the better team in just about every game they have played since October, that hasn’t been the case here. They have been a more opportunistic team and, frankly, have benefited from some loose officiating (and fewer Oilers power plays) so far this series. Not exactly what you want to hang your hat on if you are Peter DeBoer.

I’m not willing to advance the Oilers yet: they have been my Stanley Cup pick since the start of the season, but the reservation I’ve had with them is that two teams (the Golden Knights and Stars) have the depth to expose the weak parts of the Oilers lineup in a meaningful way. We have seen that in stretches again here.

But the Oilers are two wins away from a shot at the Stanley Cup and have been the better team here. Now, the pressure in the series has shifted the way of Dallas. If the Stars drop Game 5 on Friday night, the Oilers will be positioned to close out this series on home ice come Sunday.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey