As we get ready to flip the calendar over to November and gorge ourselves on candy in celebration, it's high time we take a look at the penalty situation for the Dallas Stars this season.
Some people have their advanced stats and very detailed game-situation tracking spreadsheets. I, instead, keep a multi-tabbed, color-coded spreadsheet of every single penalty the Stars are called for in a game over a given season. It's exactly as dorky as it sounds, but I believe we can still glean quite useful information out of the numbers.
For those of you new to my penalty tracking or those whose eyes glazed over the last time you read about it, here's a refresher. I separate unmatched minors from penalties that do not give a manpower advantage. This is for a few reasons, most notably that unmatched minors are what lead directly to power plays. If it were easier to tease out on a gamesheet, I'd like to separate double roughings that come out of scrums from retaliatory penalties that take away an impending power play. But since that's not easily accomplished, I just look at what types of calls put a team at a disadvantage.
I also only compare teams to their opponents rather than league-wide because every team has a different style of play and every game has a different call level. It's not fair to try and compare Stars games to Penguins games because the teams have dramatically different styles of play and will likely draw different calls just from being made up of different personnel.
And finally, I break penalties down into three categories - safety calls involving player protection penalties, obstruction calls with the interference-type penalties and other category holding the game flow calls like delay of game and too many men.
With all that out of the way, here are the numbers for the first month of the season.
The thing that jumps out immediately is the cutdown in the "other" minors from last season. Dallas hasn't taken a too many men on the ice call against them yet this year, which makes me want to throw confetti. The Stars took seven too many men penalties last year, which is about one every seven games (though to be fair, they didn't get their first until the second set of 12 games, so we'll see if they can avoid that pitfall.)
They are taking significantly more inference calls than their opponents early in the season, but that is almost evened out by their opponents struggling with too many men and unsportsmanlike conduct (thank you Steve Ott.) We'll talk about the why for the interference call disparity in a bit.
In terms of the matching minors, since we won't hit those later, Antoine Roussel is the leader in the clubhouse at the moment with three. This is also completely not surprising. In fact, it's impressive how many matching minors he's taken (and fights, where he's also your team leader with four) without taking many unmatched minors.
Here's how things break down in terms of what the Stars are being called for and what they are forcing their opponents into committing.
|Call||Stars minors||Opponent minors|
|Illegal check to the head||0||0|
|Checking from behind||0||0|
|Holding the stick||0||0|
|Too many men||0||2|
|Delay of game||1||1|
|Closing hand on puck||0||1|
This chart does not include the matching minors, most of which are matching roughings, and it does not include the Ryan Garbutt suspendable charge since that was not penalized during the course of the game.
Of the safety calls, the one that jumps out immediately is cross checking. There's been a few chintzy calls here so far this season, but a few of the younger Stars (who may or may not be named Alex Chiasson) have bad habits of extending their arms when they hit opponents in the offensive zone. The hits aren't that hard, but the extended arms are a big red flag to the ref and put the player in a position where the aftermath looks much worse than the contact.
Hooking and holding combine to be the big red flags in the obstruction fouls category (though half of the 16 total calls there come from two guys.) But hooking, in particular, is usually associated with getting beat by an opponent, either via a turnover or sheer speed, and reaching out with the stick to try and slow up the attack. So this number being high doesn't surprise me given how many boneheaded turnovers the Stars have committed this season deep in their own end.
Here's how calls against break down for each individual player.
|Shawn Horcoff||7 (Hooking 5, holding, interference)|
|Trevor Daley||5 (Holding 3, hooking, tripping)|
|Stephane Robidas||4 (Interference 2, holding, tripping)|
|Brenden Dillon||4 (Cross check, high stick, kneeing, holding)|
|Alex Chiasson||3 (Cross check 2, hooking)|
|Cody Eakin||3 (Tripping 2, high stick)|
|Ryan Garbutt||2 (Slashing, kneeing)|
|Antoine Roussel||2 (Cross check, instigator)|
|Alex Goligoski||2 (High stick, interference)|
|Sergei Gonchar||2 (Cross check, tripping)|
|Erik Cole||2 (Hooking, interference)|
|Ray Whitney||1 (Hooking)|
|Kevin Connauton||1 (Holding)|
|Vernon Fiddler||1 (Slashing)|
|Valeri Nichushkin||1 (High stick double minor)|
|Tyler Seguin||1 (Delay of game)|
A couple of caveats.
As mentioned above, Garbutt was not penalized for the charge that got him a five-game suspension (though he should have been.) Also, Valeri Nichushkin's single trip to the box this season was really a high-sticking infraction committed by Garbutt; however, Nichushkin has been officially given the penalty on his statistics, so I'm sticking with it here.
With that all out of the way, the line I know you all were waiting for is here -- Horcoff is a serial hooker, and as was summed up by referee Mike Leggo, you can't do that. Five hooking minors over the course of 12 games is an awful, awful lot.
The next three on the list are all defensemen, which makes sense given how much the Stars have been hemmed in their own end at times. On the plus side, Brenden Dillon seems to have gotten over the issue with interference that plagued him all last season, though it's not nearly the area of emphasis for referees this season as compared to last season. He still takes more than his fair share of safety calls (nearly a quarter of the total safety fouls the Stars have been called for this year are on him), but I'll call it a step forward at this point.
The other side of the story is which players are drawing the most calls, and here is that breakdown.
|Jamie Benn||5 (Holding 2, interference 2, tripping)|
|Shawn Horcoff||5 (High stick, roughing, holding, hooking, tripping)|
|Team||5 (Too many men 2, delay of game 2, unsportsmanlike - abuse of officials)|
|Erik Cole||4 (Interference 2, hooking, tripping)|
|Brenden Dillon||3 (High stick, roughing, holding)|
|Ryan Garbutt||3 (Elbowing, interference, tripping)|
|Jordie Benn||3 (High stick 2, interference)|
|Vernon Fiddler||2 (Slashing, hooking)|
|Sergei Gonchar||2 (Slashing, unsportsmanlike)|
|Trevor Daley||1 (Boarding)|
|Cody Eakin||1 (Slashing)|
|Antoine Roussel||1 (Cross check)|
|Kari Lehtonen||1 (Slashing)|
|Valeri Nichushkin||1 (High stick double minor)|
|Tyler Seguin||1 (Holding)|
Jamie Benn being at the top of this list is not a surprise with his combination of speed, size and a prodigious shot. Horcoff being tied with him atop the list is a surprise, at least to me. For as maligned as he's been this season by the Stars fanbase, he's drawing obstruction calls at a very decent clip. Given that speed isn't his biggest asset anymore, I'd attribute this to smart positioning and the veteran savvy that helps him know when opponents have put themselves in bad positions.
I expected Cole to remain near the top of this list -- he was a penalty drawing machine last year, and one of the biggest assets in terms of drawing calls is raw speed, which Cole has in spades.
Because of the speed factor, it surprises me that players like Eakin, Nichushkin and Seguin only drew one call each during the first 12 games (with Nichushkin's coming on a high stick, which has nothing to do with puck possession.) I'd expect at least Seguin's draw rate to increase over the course of the season, especially as dangerous on the puck as he's been so far.
All in all, it's been a fairly successful start to the season for the Stars in the penalty department. They aren't nearly as overboard with the safety fouls as they were last year, even with the fairly high rate of cross checks, and they are essentially even with their opponents in minors drawn versus minors committed. You can't ask for much else in the first 12 games under an entirely new regime.