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On the Radar: Solving the Riddle

by Josh Bogorad / Dallas Stars

The recent trend of Dallas Stars games has forced those who follow the team to ask themselves the same question. How can a team as offensively potent as the Stars get repeatedly shut down by opposing goaltenders, who all seem to put together superb nights against them?

It's not like the Stars have had trouble scoring this season, and this can be chalked up to, 'Well, everyone has a good night against that team.' The Stars are the second-highest scoring team in the NHL. They are led by a player who is tied for the NHL lead in points and is third in goal scoring. Their game is constructed around defensemen joining the rush, and attacking offensively. They score all the time! The problem isn't supposed to be at that end of the ice, and everyone knows it.

So, how is it possible that in their last seven losses, the Stars have outshot every single one of their opponents - by an astounding average of more than 13 shots per game - but have a 0-6-1 record to show for it?

Dating back to January 10, in their most recent seven defeats, the Stars have outshot the opposition a combined 274-182. Yet, they've been outscored 22-14. That means the Stars are averaging just 2.0 goals per game on 39.1 shots. That amounts to a Dallas shooting percentage of 5.1%. If that seems unusually low, it's because it is. Over the entire season, the Stars have scored 165 goals on 1655 shots - almost exactly 10%.

For the record, if you are more of a fan of shot attempts than shots, lopsided Corsi numbers are also evident during the stretch. The Stars Corsi-differential over those seven losses was +228 - an average of +32.6/game.

So, has it been the other team's goaltenders really just standing on their heads, night after night?

It is worth noting that a couple of those losses came against Boston's Tukka Rask (36 saves, 37 shots) and Montreal's Carey Price (40,42). Those two steal games all the time. It's part of hockey. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the guy in the other crease and move on.

And had it stopped there, that might explain it. But it doesn't. Also sprinkled into this segment were games against Winnipeg's Ondrej Pavelic (46, 47), Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy (33, 36) and Buffalo's Jhonas Enroth (38, 40). For perspective, Pavelic's appearance against Dallas was the only time in his last nine starts that he's surrendered fewer than three goals. Vasilevskiy was making his fifth-ever NHL appearance. And Enroth has a 3.30 GAA and .903 save percentage this season, playing in front of a hapless Sabres team.

Given all of that, it simply cannot be elite goaltending night after night, can it? The seven losses in question have come against six different teams, with six different goaltenders. At a certain point, you have to take into account the common denominator. So, let's do that.

It turns out that over that same time span, the Stars have won six games, mixed in with those seven losses. Coincidentally enough, the Stars have been outshot in five of them. In those contests, the Stars were outshot a combined 218-187, yet they outscored their opponents 30-18. Unlike in the losses we discussed, the Stars shooting percentage in these wins comes out to 16.0%.

To recap, in the last month, here is the breakdown of the Stars wins and losses:

Wins Losses
Record 6-0-0 0-6-1
Shots For (avg) 31.1 39.1
Shots Against (avg) 36.3 26.0
Goals For (avg) 5.0 2.0
Goals Against (avg) 3.0 3.1
Shooting Percentage 16.0 5.1

As much as the route to get there seems counterintuitive, when you add it all up, over the last 13 games, the Stars are pretty much right on the statistical pace they have been on all season. On average, they've scored 3.4 goals, posted 35.5 shots, allowed 30.8 shots, and surrendered 3.1 goals per game. As for their shooting percentage? They've scored 44 goals on 461 shots - good for 9.5%, which is...you guessed it, just about their season pace.

The fact that this all transpired during a stretch where the team that generated more shots lost 12 out of 13 times is pretty peculiar. But it does all add up in the end.

There is a theory that shots on goal can be a misleading stat. That theory suggests that teams that fall behind will naturally push more offensively in an effort to get back in the game. While that can happen, it normally applies to lopsided games like the one between Dallas and Vancouver back in October. Unlike that one, the games Dallas has played over the last month have almost all been close. The score was tied or within a single goal in the third period in 12 of the last 13 games, and not counting empty net goals, 10 of the 13 finished as one-goal games. The idea that in such tight games, so many different teams could go into that much of a defensive shell for 13 consecutive games just doesn't seem realistic.

Furthermore, if shots were misleading to that degree, you would see similar outcomes throughout the league. However, when you look at the rest of the NHL, you find something much closer to what one would conventionally expect. This year NHL teams that outshoot their opponent are 414-269-81 (.595). The numbers show that teams losing games in which they outshoot their opponent is not that rare. Doing so in 12 out of 13 times, however, is another story.

Yet, maybe not so much for the Stars.

If you broaden the scope from the last month to the entire season, what you find is rather shocking. This year the Stars are 7-14-4 (.360) when outshooting their opponent. They are the opposite when they get outshot, posting an inverse mark of 14-7-4 (.640). (There have been three games where they have the same shots as their opponent. In case you are curious, Dallas has won all three).

Circling back to find out why that is the case with the Stars is challenging. There are theories. Some have suggested that in losses the Stars play more of a perimeter game, and while the shots are there, the valuable "dirty" opportunities have been lacking. It's also possible that a team whose mental fortitude has been questioned underachieves on their chances when it looks like the other goaltender is having a strong game. Perhaps, in their own net, Kari Lehtonen is a goaltender who thrives when most of the action comes his way. Or maybe it's as simple as this season has been a statistical aberration for Dallas, and the results are merely coincidental.

It's hard to say for sure. It might be a little bit of all of those reasons, peppered with a few more that weren't mentioned. Whatever the reason, it helps explain the last month, and prove that perhaps it wasn't as crazy as it seemed. At least not for these Stars. In strange way, it kind of makes sense. After all, we've learned that you never quite know exactly what to expect with this team.

With that in mind, let's see what the final two months have in store.

 

The Stars begin a three-game week on Tuesday, when they close out their road trip in Boston. They then finish the week with a Friday-Saturday back-to-back set. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' as they take the ice:

Offense From Defense

Dallas has received an offensive shot in the arm from their defense this season, mainly stemming from two men. Trevor Daley leads all Stars defensemen with a career-high 13 goals this season. He is currently tied for second among all NHL blueliners. John Klingberg is just behind with ten goals this year. That tandem is one of only two defensive teammates to both post double digit goals so far this season. The other pair are Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames, who have 12 and 11, respectively. Only 15 NHL defensemen have scored at least ten goals this year. Daley and Klingberg have accounted for 23 goals this season. Ten other Stars defensemen have suited up for Dallas this year. All of them have combined to score six goals.

Penalty Problems

The Stars have been in a number of close games recently, and in some of their losses, a better penalty kill could have bailed them out. Dallas has struggled badly on the PK recently, surrendering power play goals in seven of their last nine games. The Stars are just 22-for-29 (75.9%) in that time. This week, Dallas takes on three teams who have not posted great power plays this season. The Stars visit Boston (17th), host Florida (27th), and travel to Colorado (29th). The Stars have recently allowed man-advantage goals to bottom-feeding units like Buffalo and Ottawa, so they cannot take anything for granted. However, this statistically sets up like a week the Stars could get their penalty kill back on track.

Rookie Showdown

The two most impressive rookie defensemen in the NHL will square off for the first time this season on Friday night when Dallas hosts Florida at American Airlines Center. John Klingberg of the Stars leads all rookie defensemen with ten goals. He is second in points with 28. The only man he trails is last year's #1 overall pick, Aaron Ekblad of the Panthers. Ekblad turned 19 on Saturday, and is currently third among all rookies with 30 points. He is second among rookie defensemen goal scoring with eight goals, behind only Klingberg. Ekblad has played in a dozen more games than Klingberg this season. Klingberg is on a tear recently with ten points (4g, 6a) in his last six games. The Stars and Panthers will meet again on March 5 in Florida.

 

Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.

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