With the Dallas Stars 2013 campaign slowly fading in the rear-view mirror, it's time to take a look back at the year in penalties.
Because these things can get a little bit long, I'm going to split this into two parts. Today we'll just look at the overall team penalty totals, comparing what the Stars were called for to the penalties their opponents took. Early next week, we'll break down the individuals.
So let's start with the most basic comparison - the unmatched minor totals and how they compare.
There were also four total penalty shots awarded - two for the Stars and two for their opponents.
For those of you new to my penalty numbers or those whose eyes glazed over the last time you read it and need 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 feasible for me at the moment, 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 playing their ideal games.
And finally, I break penalties down into three categories - safety calls involving player protection penalties, obstruction calls with the interference-type penalties and other getting the "game flow" calls like delay of game and too many men.
What strikes me about this season is just how even the call split ended up being (the old cliche of everything evening out over time comes to mind). The safety calls are identical and the obstruction-interference calls nearly so. The biggest difference is obviously the "other" category, something we'll discuss in more detail in a bit.
So lets take a closer look at the season-long trends in penalties taken and see if we can tease out some trends. Here's how the Stars break down over 2013.
This does not include the pair of penalty shots surrendered by Dallas.
We all knew the Stars started the season taking far, far too many safety minors, mostly due to a mind-boggling problem with high sticks. And once they got into a rhythm after about game 10, those safety calls dropped dramatically. Yes, there was a slight uptick at the end of the season. That was almost solely due to a few unmatched roughings in the final five games as the team got frustrating seeing its playoff hopes slip away.
The category that I'd have liked to see drop more was the "other" calls, which include delay of game, too many men and closing your hand on the puck. You expect a few disorganized bench calls early in the season, and players had to adjust to the new faceoff rules this year, but the Stars never seemed to get settled. Heck, they took three too many men calls in the final 12 games of the season as well as two closing hands on the puck calls.
So there's likely something deeper at play here. Is it a coaching issue? Bench organization? Some of the too many men calls stemmed from the Stars trying to "cheat change," or send a guy off the opposite end of the bench from the guy leaving the ice to try and draw a positional advantage. Every team does this at some point, but the Stars did get caught really pushing the boundaries at times - Trevor Daley trying to get a chance in Nashville comes immediately to mind.
But seven calls is more than a little bad luck being caught pushing the envelope. Too many men was also a problem in Glen Gulutzan's first season. Heck, the Stars should have been called for yet another TMM late in the final game against the San Jose Sharks when they had seven players out there. It tells me there might have been too much chaos on the bench at key moments of games.
And how did trends change in terms of drawing calls as the season went on?
This does not include the pair of penalty shots drawn by Dallas.
To continue on the previous point, this is more what I'd expect of an "other" category. Stars opponents had a run of delay of game calls in the second quarter of the season but generally kept this category well under control.
The amount of obstruction calls drawn by Dallas dropped slightly as the season went on, though a good portion of this was due to a loosening of the standards in some areas. As we'll see below, the Stars also stopped drawing tripping and holding calls at the prodigious rate they were in the first half. Still, there was a noticeable loosening of the obstruction standards as the season drew on, so I'm not too concerned with that.
Also, the Stars did start to draw more safety calls in the second half of the season. Some of that was the luckdragons, particularly when it comes to high sticks. And some of it was a rediscovered net drive. The more players go to the "hard" areas of the ice like the corners and crease and stay there, the more likely it is that they will get involved in a physical battle with a defender and draw a cross check or a slash.
Now onto a breakdown of the individual calls. I'm sorry for the relative lack of organization of this chart - the grouping is alphabetical within each category (so the first five on the following chart are all safety calls in alphabetical order, followed by the six obstruction calls). This particular chart details what the Stars were called for this year.
|Call||Total||Games 1-12||Games 13-24||Games 25-36||Games 37-48|
|Holding the stick||5||0||2||1||2|
|Too many men||7||0||3||1||3|
|Delay of game||5||1||3||1||0|
|Closing the hand||5||3||0||0||2|
The Stars did not take an unmatched minor for charging, elbowing, kneeing, illegal check to the head, checking from behind, instigating or unsportsmanlike-diving this season. The major, not accounted for on this list, was for cross checking.
There are still far too many high sticking calls for the entire season, but a full half of those came in the first 12 games (and nine of them came in the first nine games). Boarding is rather high as well (one every four games), with Eric Nystrom being the big individual contributor here. But boarding is a tough one because it's a "penalty of result," where a fairly innocuous hit can be very illegal because of a weird way the player spun after contact. In all, it's worth an eyebrow raise because it speaks to team reputation as well as the infamous luckdragons.
On the obstruction side, hooking is always one of the high-volume calls since an extended stick is like a flashing light for the referee, and several of the Stars struggled throughout the season with the new emphasis on interference. Tripping picked up over the season's final quarter, and some of that was due to the Stars trying to activate their defense to pressure further in the offensive zone, which often left players chasing on the backcheck.
Again, though, too many men, unsportsmanlike and closing the hand really jump out to me. There's no excuse for seven too many men penalties (or one every seven games or so), and two late-season closing the hand penalties shouldn't have happened either.
Here's the comparable chart for what the team drew:
|Call||Total||Games 1-12||Games 13-24||Games 25-36||Games 37-48|
|Holding the stick||1||0||0||0||1|
|Delay of game||7||2||4||0||1|
The Stars did not draw unmatched minors for illegal check to the head, checking from behind, too many men, closing the hand on the puck, instigating or diving. This does not include a pair of majors drawn as well.
The difference in boarding really stands out here, as the Stars took 12 calls and only earned three. Even high sticking calls almost evened out by the end of the season. While it's not the biggest numerical differential, it is the one that speaks to me the most in terms of team reputation. The Stars seem to have picked up a rep for being a little physically out of control with their checking, and while that's something that's been earned over time, it's something they do need to be aware of going forward.
It's also interesting to note the uptick in interference calls about the time Erik Cole arrived (more on that next week), though that did coincide with a large drop in holding calls drawn. There as also a very noticeable drop in tripping calls as the season went on. Some of those trips were undoubtedly called hooks or slashes in the latter part of the season, but it does raise an eyebrow a bit.
Finally, a the fact that their opponents did not get calls for a too many men penalty or a closing the hand on the puck call is a little bit of bad luck (most teams took 1-3 closing the hand calls this season), but it also serves to illustrate the Stars issues in those areas.
Next week, we'll break down the calls by individuals. The team leaders in unmatched minors are not surprising, but some of the top players in calls drawn might surprise you.