With the season about a month away, I decided to sit down and try and figure out the Stars penalty killing woes. I won't go over the rankings, you've heard them before. Instead of pointing out exactly how bad the Stars were on the PK, I wanted to find out exactly WHY they were so pitiful. Much more constructive.
So I spent the weekend poring through the NHL.com video highlights, watching and documenting every goal the Stars allowed on the penalty kill last season. Yes, I know I'm a hockey nerd who has no college life. I'm okay with this.
The chart above is something I made yesterday after I got over my anger that Macs don't have Microsoft Paint on them. Each dot represents a goal the Stars allowed on the PK last season. Notice where the most accumulation of goals is: in or around the crease area. In fact 25 goals were allowed there, which adds up to 38% of the total PK goals given up.
Now, take another look at the chart, this time at the slots. If you combine the goals from the slot with the crease goals, you get 44 goals. That's 67% of the total goals allowed. One of the basic rules of penalty killing is that leaving the slot open leads to goals. Once the puck is passed into the slot, the defense must collapse into the middle, leaving the circles open for shots. You can see this in the diagram above. If the goals weren't coming from the slot or crease, they were coming from the circles.
So what does all of this tell us? Follow the jump for a video analysis (courtesy NHL.com)....
1. Patience is key
If there's anything to take from this chart, it's that the Stars penalty killers allowed the opposition too far into the offensive zone. You want to keep the shots limited to the blueline, and to do that, you have to hang tight and block the passing lanes. Staying patient is key.
However, the Stars seemed too jumpy at times on the PK last season. Instead of wading in between passing lanes to buy time, there were times when a player would jump out to try to force a turnover or break up a pass. This of course opened up passing lanes for the opposition, and allowed them to come closer and closer to the net. An example is this play against the New Jersey Devils:
Patience is a tough thing to teach, especially in such a fast-paced game. But being over-agressive on the penalty kill is something the Stars must work to correct this season.
2. Stop turning the puck over.
This might've been the most maddening thing for me while I was sifting through these goals. The Stars had the uncanny ability to give the puck to the opposing power play, whether it was at the blueline...
Or behind the net...
...the Stars just couldn't seem to be able to control the puck at times, and that's a death sentence for any penalty kill. Because turning the puck over results in a dangerous chain of events. It prevents you from your main goal, which is clearing the puck. Because the Stars struggled with turnovers, the PK unit was left on the ice for longer-than-usual amounts of time, allowing the opposition to slowly wear down the Stars and open up lanes to get to the net. And, as you can see from the videos, turnovers more often than not lead to chaotic scrambles to get back on defense.
3. Get the puck away from the crease.
As I detailed above, the majority of the goals against were given up in or around the crease. Frankly, that's inexcusable for any penalty kill. Let's go over a couple of specific examples:
Here, in the very first game of the season, we see the Stars fail to keep the puck from the crease. Neither Trevor Daley nor Nicklas Grossman react quickly enough to the pass from Dumont to Jason Arnott, and neither can bully him and the puck out of harm's way. Should Turco have made this save? Yes, but there shouldn't have even been any danger considering the Stars had two defenseman hacking away at one stick.
Here, the Stars are overcommitted to one side of the ice. Wandell has fallen down, and Eriksson and Daley have left Grossman as the only defender in front of the net. This lets the Blackhawks swarm to the front of the net, and Patrick Kane deposits the puck in the net while the Stars try to fight their way into the crease. This kind of play was replayed over and over again as the season progressed.
Here is a simple case of the Stars being unable to clear the puck from the front of the net at all. They do a lot right on this play: they collapse well, no one is out of position. But when it comes to bailing their goaltender out of danger, the Stars can't execute.
And really, that's what I think the Stars must do to be successful this year on the penalty kill: just execute. Don't get pulled out of position. Don't overcommit to one side of the ice. Control the puck, keep it from falling into the opponent's hands again. Slow down, stay patient. Clear the puck, get it out of the crease. Be more physical around the net.
All of these are simply basic rules of penalty killing, and the Stars could never manage to execute all of them properly last season. If they can work cohesively as a group to execute every single one of those areas, they will be better off for it.
We'll just have to wait and see.