Look no further than what's been unfolding on our television screens the last 14 days to see how important the power play is in the NHL.
The Sharks managed just two power play goals in their series, while St. Louis scored six in five games. The Blackhawks scored only a single man-advantage goal in 19 attempts over six games. The Florida Panthers have used a 7-of-23 performance on the power play to get themselves to an unlikely game seven Thursday night, and certainly the Bruins think they wouldn't be in their current predicament without a 2-for-20 effort on the job thus far.
You know what the Dallas Stars did with their man advantages this year. They tied a franchise record low for total power play goals scored (33) and percentage (13.5%). They had the worst power play in the league this season, another first for the franchise.
The more we look for glaring weaknesses to examine as the autopsy rolls on, the more our eyes are drawn back to it, again and again.
"It's the number one part we have to get better at," agrees Loui Eriksson. "We have to score more on the power play, that's the way we can win more games. We have to outwork them. We've been a little too sloppy sometimes. We need to put more pucks to the net, too. I think that's how you score goals. You have to get traffic in front and put pucks there. Then rebounds will come out and you will score more goals. That's something we need to do."
The question was put to several Stars' players and coaches in the locker room during March and April: "Is the answer, simply, that you just have to get more pucks to the net?"
They said the right things over and over again. They knew what the problem was. Yet they just couldn't get pucks to the goal.
Today we'll look at some pretty shocking numbers illustrating why the Stars power play reached historic lows - Deeper numbers than simply PP goals and percentage. Fair warning: It's not pretty...
It's one thing to be the worst power play of this season. What about last season? Or the season before that? I took the last five years worth of data, dating back to the 2007-2008 season and sorted those 150 season's worth of power plays to find out how Dallas' 2011-2012 stacks up.
Here are the worst five power plays of the last five years overall:
That's the 148th best power play of the last five years altogether, if you want to rank them. Why?
The Stars say they don't get enough shots to the net. You've heard Razor say it a hundred times on the broadcast: Teams score power play goals in this league by simply getting pucks at the net, setting screens and cleaning up rebounds. The number of pretty cross-ice pass power play goals is really quite titchy in comparison to the number of ugly ones these days.
So how do the Stars stack up as far as getting the puck on goal? Maybe they're just unlucky...
Here are the lowest shot totals on the power play over the course of the last five years:
|Season||Team||PP Shot Totals|
The Stars had the worst PP shot total in five years, league-wide. You'll notice that all five in this list came from this season - A symptom of the league having handed out far fewer power plays this season than any other in recent memory. We'll cover this another time. For now we'll move on to a more relevant stat to counter this phenomenon.
Let's use the league's "power play time" stat to measure how many shots the Stars put on goal per two minutes of power play time: That is to say, how many shots did they take on your average, run-of-the-mill 2-minute power play?
(Josh actually already looked at this concept during the season, here, and he reminded me of this fact yesterday when I was talking about running these numbers. So let's call it a continuation, or a completion of what he had already started now that all 82 games are in.)
Here are the worst five PPSOG per two-minutes of PP time over the last five years:
|Season||Team||PPSOG/2 Minutes of PP Time|
Once again, the Stars make the list, notching the 149th place of 150 over the last five years of power play history in the league. When they say they need to put more pucks on net, they aren't kidding. For every two minutes of power play time they manage just 1.34 shots on goal.
As Josh said earlier in the year, shots on goal during the power play represent the "process" the team is going through to attempt to score. If the Stars were unlucky, they would not be on many of these "worst-of: last five years" tables. They would have many shots on goal and a low shooting percentage that should have corrected itself over the course of 82 games. It didn't, because the process was broken this year. The numbers show that they weren't only bad by this year's standards, but the last five years over all, and perhaps beyond. (I was too lazy to go back that many seasons...)
Stars owner Tom Gaglardi made this an issue publicly, and also gave a little insight into what he's thinking the problem is. "I think we’ve got to look at our power play, finished last in the league and broke a record for fewest goals as a franchise on the power play. That’s a real concern. A lot of the power play starts at the back end."
The back end, as he says, featured Alex Goligoski, Stephane Robidas, Philip Larsen, Sheldon Souray and Trevor Daley this season. The difference from the Marc Crawford era, which featured Brad Richards at one of the points, isn't hard to see when you look at simple SOG data:
Top 10 PP SOG 2010-2011:
Top 10 PP SOG 2011-2012:
Brad Richards facilitated and took an enormous number of SOG on the power play. The Stars did not find a way to fill that gap this last season. Sheldon Souray led the Stars in PPSOG this season despite playing the 12th most PP minutes on the team at 1:48. Something is wrong with that picture.
The bottom line is that the Stars' power play failed to do the simplest of jobs: Get the puck on net. There are a plethora of reason for this, all of which are on Glen Gulutzan's mind this off-season. Faceoffs, zone time, puck possession, personnel groupings, etc - It all leads into getting that puck on net. For whatever reason they did not do it.
"Your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer," they say. Dallas nearly invalidated that adage this season. It's enough to almost make one want to join those people at the AAC who petulantly yell "SHOOT THE PUCK."