Every time the Dallas Stars turn around this season, at least since the calendar flipped to November, it seems like they're earning a penalty shot.
In the past 12 games, starting with the road victory over the Boston Bruins, the Stars have earned four penalty shots and converted on two of them. And they've added to matters by giving up an unsuccessful penalty shot attempt as well during that stretch to the New York Rangers.
History tells us the Stars have already set their team's record, and despite extensive searching, I could not find the official all-time NHL record for team penalty shot attempts in a season. I did find, however, that several teams have had five attempts.
Additionally, five teams have had six penalty shot attempts in a season: the 1934-35 Detroit Red Wings, the 2003-04 Minnesota Wild, the 2005-06 Calgary Flames, the 2008-09 Philadelphia Flyers and the 2010-11 Boston Bruins. The 2005-06 Atlanta Thrashers, 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes and 2005-06 Nashville Predators are among the leaders in the clubhouse with seven attempts in a season. Heck, the Tampa Bay Lightning have had seven twice - in 2008-09 and 2010-11.
The closest I could find to the Stars short run were those 05-06 Hurricanes, who had four penalty shots in November, and, of all teams, the woeful 1988-89 New Jersey Devils, who were awarded four penalty shots in the month of March and five overall that season. The fun part about the Hurricanes run is that five of those seven penalty shots were earned by Erik Cole, who scored on two of them. The 2008-09 Lightning also had a four penalty-shot run in January and added another on Feb. 10.
(As an aside, I could find records for every team except the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues. If you have access to those, I would love to see them. Then I could confidently say seven is the most.)
Even if it's not an NHL record, four in 12 games seems like a pretty epic streak, so I decided to dig into the numbers to see if I could find any explanations for this little run. Through a combination of the Stars media guide, the official NHL website and various other historical statistics sites, I was able to find the regular-season call and conversion rates dating back to the 1984-85 season as well as a full listing of penalty shot attempts in Stars franchise history.
The first thing I wanted to look at was the sheer number of penalty shots per regular season in the league. Perhaps, some people suggested, the league average is way up, and that's what accounts for the Stars' higher number of penalty shots this season.
|Season||Penalty Shots||Converted||% Games with PS||Conversion Rate|
Penalty shots are indeed up this year. The rate of a penalty shot in 7.6 percent of games this season would be the second-highest rate over a full season over the past 30 years, second only to the 2005-06 season that featured a notable crackdown on obstruction.
Still, the Stars are a huge outlier even at that rate, which would be a total of about 94 penalty shots this season. That would give each team an average of 3.13 penalty shots over 82 games this season as well as the ones they face from opponents.
But the Stars have been involved in five penalty shots already - four for and one against. They've earned a penalty shot in nearly 15 percent of their games, and if you extrapolate that out, that's 13 penalty shots over the course of an 82 game season. That's obviously not going to happen (or at least, if it does, it will be an outlier of historic proportions.)
Only one other team - the Philadelphia Flyers - has at least three penalty shot attempts this season. Five other teams - Chicago, Montreal, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and Toronto - have been awarded two.
So why are the Stars earning more penalty shots this season outside of the general uptick?
The first answer is probably team speed. The Stars have speed to burn and are finally learning how to take advantage of it via breakaway passes from defensemen. Three of the players who have earned penalty shots this year for Dallas - Vernon Fiddler, Valeri Nichushkin and Antoine Roussel - are among the faster guys on the team, and while Alex Chiasson isn't traditionally considered a speedster, he certainly moves around the rink well.
The second answer is likely related to puck possession. While the Stars haven't always had the results to show for it (or sometimes have results in spite of poor games), they have been a generally above average team in terms of puck possession this season. Breakaways, and therefore the opportunity to create a penalty shot situation, come when your team gains control of the puck in an advantageous situation and takes advantage of a napping or flat-footed defense.
Finally, there is obviously some luck involved. I'd call at least one of the Stars penalty shot opportunities - Nichushkin's against the Edmonton Oilers - a weak call. Those things tend to even out over time, and the Stars are on the favorable side of that equation at the moment.
So where does this little run stand in Stars history? Well it's already the most prolific for drawing penalty shots, tied with the 2010-11 season at four and with 2005-096 for most goals scored via penalty shot at two.
For comparison, here's a chart of the Stars penalty shots for and against going back to their Stanley Cup Championship season.
|Season||Dallas PS||Dallas Converted||Opponent PS||Opponent Converted|
For the record, before the team moved to Dallas (as well as the years in Dallas preceding the Cup win), the Stars had two seasons where they earned three penalty shots but never converted on more than one a season.
In their franchise history, including this season, the Stars have earned 52 penalty shots and converted 12 of those. They have given up 52 penalty shots to opponents and allowed 17 goals on those. The rise in Stars penalty shot opportunities, though not necessarily those of their opponents, runs in pretty direct parallel to the increase throughout the league, at least until this season's outliers.
Again, it's obvious this run of four penalty shots for in 12 games (or even the full 26 games) won't last. There are reasonable, if unexpected, outliers and then there are ridiculous outliers, and this falls directly into the latter category.
But it's still been fun to experience as a fan, especially with players like Fiddler and Roussel converting on sweet backhand shots. And even if things don't continue at this pace, the Stars very well may find themselves in the NHL record book before this is all said and done.