If there's been a consistent theme among the Dallas Stars losses this season, it's been too many penalties.
"It's something that if we're going to have any chance in this league, we're going to have to figure it out right quick," center Vernon Fiddler said after the Stars took eight penalties in a 2-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. "If we don't, we're not going to win many games."
We posted a story earlier this week detailing the types of calls the Stars are struggling with, and things remained essentially the same in the next few games. The Stars are taking far too many stick-foul calls, mostly notably high sticking and hooking, and the problems range up and down the lineup.
Of the eight penalties the Stars took against Phoenix, only one player - Michael Ryder - took more than one.
"It's not just tonight. It's feeling like a theme around here that we're killing a lot of penalties," defenseman Trevor Daley said. "We're quite frankly killing too many, and you can't win when the other top two lines are getting all the power play time and getting all the confidence out there. The league's just too good, and those guys are on the ice getting confidence, you're not going to win...
"It's killing us right now, and we're losing games because of it. It's unfortunate because 5-on-5, I think we're a pretty good team."
In the loss at Phoenix, the shots were 21-17 Coyotes at even strength but 34-17 Phoenix when the 11:40 of power play time for the Coyotes to 0:40 for Dallas was factored in. And like so many other games, that one started out with fairly even play before the parade to the box began.
And several players pointed out, penalties have multiple negative effects on a team. Not only are the opponent's top-line players getting extended ice time in relatively easy situations, but many of the Stars top forwards are stuck on the bench or at the very least put into situations where their first thought is not about creating offense.
"It's the volume of them." Fiddler said of why penalties have hurt the team so much. "Our PK is doing a great job but the top guys are sitting on the bench and they can't get out there and get us any goals. Then their legs are tired cause they've been sitting there for a long time. It's gone on last year. It's gone on the beginning of this year. It's something we have to fix right away."
So the million dollar question is how the heck do the Stars stop this trend? As Daley pointed out, they're obviously not setting out to take those calls. And while a lack of puck possession can certainly be blamed for some of the trends, the Stars also have a disturbing habit of taking relatively useless penalties in the offensive zone.
Some of it is a matter of internal player discipline. Not to pick on Ryder here, but both his opening penalty and Antoine Roussel's final one were the result of silly retaliatory plays where their hands came up in post-contact shoving matches. And many of the high-sticking penalties, including some of those where contact to the face looked marginal at best, could be prevented by players having the discipline to keep their sticks closer to the ice.
To be fair, the Stars have taken a fair number of calls that were not the most blatant rule violations and a few that were complete whiffs by referees. But those happen to every team in the league and generally even out over the course of a season. The Stars need to worry about controlling what they can control - those silly, obvious fouls that seem to throw them behind the game every single night - and not letting a few missed calls frustrate them into taking more penalties.
"We're going to pay for it now," Gulutzan said of how he planned to address the team's constant march to the box. "We paid for it (against Phoenix), and we've had internal discussions about too many penalties. And we'll pay for it when we get to practice."
According to Mike Heika, Derek Roy will make his return from a groin injury Monday against the Colorado Avalanche, and Kari Lehtonen will be in net. No word on who will be sent back to Austin to make room for Roy on the roster.