The Dallas Stars have a severe strategic problem on their hands. Glen Gulutzan knows it. The Stars players know it. The entire NHL knows it.
If you put pressure on the Stars defense, good things will happen. When teams pressure the Stars in their defensive end, the Stars cough the puck up. When they pressure the Stars at the point in the offensive zone, chaos is bound to ensue.
Gulutzan has tried to fix the problem.
At times this season, he has had the forwards from the Stars zone coverage playing much lower than one would typically expect. This aided the defensemen in coverage, gave them ample outlets for transition passes, and, unfortunately, led to opposing defensemen getting consistent uncontested shots on the Stars' net. One quick pass from down low back to the point, and the Stars' entire defensive scheme would go to hell.
The one consistently effective strategy the Stars have used to combat this problem is having their defensemen skate the puck out of trouble.
Brenden Dillon and Jordie Benn have been particularly adept at skating out of trouble. Alex Goligoski, Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Philip Larsen, and Jamie Oleksiak all have the skating ability to do the same. Yet, more often than not, they don't.
The coaching staff has obviously made this a priority. For stretches during games the Stars really get after it.
Against the Ducks, half of the Stars' zone entries through two periods were by defensemen. Against Chicago that number dropped considerably, because of how quickly the Blackhawks made decisions with the puck, and how quickly they pressured the Stars to make a play.
Ideally the Stars could fix the problem by simply "thinking faster." Unfortunately, that isn't a reasonable request to make of most people. "Thinking faster" doesn't just happen. The Stars' roster, as presently constructed, isn't built to make quick plays. The long-term solution very well may be to try a significantly different mix, but that doesn't help the Stars in their current playoff push. They need immediate solutions.
The most immediate solution is to go back to what has worked for them.
The Stars need to keep their defensemen actively engaged in the offense. The Stars need their defensemen to get the puck deep so they can put as much pressure on the forecheck as possible and dedicate as many players to the front of the net as possible.
If the Stars don't get back to this, the best teams in the league are going to eat them alive down the stretch, and the playoffs will ultimately be well beyond their grasp.
When Josh Lile isn't teaching children about mathematics, he's tweeting about hockey with luminaries like The Ticket's Bob Sturm. You don't want to miss that, so follow Josh on Twitter at @JoshL1220.