Whatever the Dallas Stars have done to cut down on the number of penalties this year is working.
Even with a few overly enthusiastic individuals driving people nuts with their constant trips to the box, the Stars have done a fantastic job cutting down the needless calls against that hurt them so much over the past few seasons. This is my fourth year tracking calls for the team (third in such detail), and this is the first where they seem to have really and truly settled into a good rhythm.
Today we're going to take a look at the numbers for January. Here is the link to the numbers from December, and you can work your way back from there if you'd like.
As always, safety calls involve rules put in place to protect the players (boarding, charging, high sticking, slashing) and obstruction fouls are more about impeding a player from getting somewhere (hooking, holding, tripping). Other covers game flow fouls like too many men, delay of game, unsportsmanlike conduct/abuse of officials, and matching fouls are self-explanatory.
With all that out of the way, here's how the Stars looked over the first four months of the season. The numbers in parentheses are averages, as there were 12 games each in October and November and 15 games each in December and January.
|October||48 (4)||13 (1.08)||26 (2.17)||2 (0.17)||7 (0.58)||0||8 (0.67)|
|November||38 (3.17)||10 (0.83)||21 (1.75)||3 (0.25)||4 (0.33)||0||4 (0.33)|
|December||65 (4.33)||22 (1.47)||23 (1.53)||11 (0.73)||9 (0.60)||0||3 (0.20)|
|January||59 (3.93)||16 (1.07)||26 (1.73)||3 (0.20)||14 (0.93)||0||5 (0.33)|
|Total||210 (3.89)||61 (1.23)||96 (1.78)||19 (0.35)||34 (0.63)||0||20 (0.37)|
The Stars were coming off a very successful December, so it's not surprising to see the obstruction-type calls trended slightly up in the last month. Still, that was more than made up for by a downturn in safety minors and "other" calls (most of which were delay of game calls in December). In all, they were below their season average in all three unmatched penalty categories. I'll call that a win.
The other thing of note is the matching minors, which jumped way up. There are two possible thing to take from that. The first is some of the safety calls the Stars were taking of the unmatched variety in December could have ended up matched by the other side in January - given the number of matching minors involving Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel, this is my most likely guess. The other is that the Stars simply played with more of an edge to their game, possibly trying to "fight without fighting" when they were behind.
I don't really mind matching minors provided they are well-timed and don't involve a talent mismatch that hurts the Stars - basically the same criteria I have for fights. And I will take a million matching minors instead of a few unmatched, offensive-zone penalties.
Here's how the Stars opponents have fared over the first four months:
|October||47 (3.92)||14 (1.17)||20 (1.67)||6 (0.50)||7 (0.58)||0||8 (0.67)|
|November||43 (3.58)||17 (1.42)||21 (1.75)||1 (0.08)||4 (0.33)||0||4 (0.33)|
|December||67 (4.47)||17 (1.13)||33 (2.20)||18 (0.53)||9 (0.60)||0||4 (0.27)|
|January||63 (4.2)||12 (0.80)||30 (2.00)||7 (0.47)||14 (0.93)||0||5 (0.33)|
|Total||220 (4.07)||60 (1.11)||104 (1.93)||22 (0.41)||34 (0.63)||0||21 (0.39)|
The Stars continue to perform very well relative to their opponents this season. They had a few too many relative safety minors (roughing and slashing are the two biggest issues, as we'll detail below) while their opponents preferred the old-fashioned high stick.
The disparity in obstruction fouls is very interesting, particularly given how the Stars struggled to start the month. You usually see teams that are trailing or being outplayed commit more obstruction fouls. But after the first game of the month, where the Stars committed one obstruction infraction to Montreal's none, the Stars were always on the right side of that ledger last month.
Safety minors were by far a bigger issue during that stretch (the Stars committed five more safety minors than their opponents during the six-game losing streak), but the obstruction discrepancy matches up with the impression many got from the team. Despite the number of losses, they often weren't being roundly outplayed. The possession stats and penalty stats back that up.
It gets even clearer when you look at the individual call breakdowns. Standard disclaimer about the individual totals that they only account for unmatched minors. At least one Stars player (ahem Jamie Benn) has been called for a dive this year, but since that was matched with a tripping call, it did not affect the relative even-strength and will not be mentioned below.
This is the Stars list:
|Illegal check to head||0||0||1||0||1|
|Holding the stick||0||0||0||2||2|
|Too many men||0||0||2||2||4|
|Delay of game||1||3||6||1||11|
In the past few years, when the Stars had such an issue with safety minors, I talked about the particular uselessness of some safety fouls. Boarding happens, especially since it's a penalty of result. High sticking happens. Even slashing happens, at least to some extent, as it exists as kind of the crossover between obstruction and safety calls.
Cross checks and roughs, however, don't need to happen, especially unmatched. Unmatched roughing is a great thing when you can draw it but a terrible penalty to take. It's the penalty the agitators love to draw and hate to get called for - after all, if the ref catches you cuffing another guy in the face and throws just you in the box, the other guy wins.
So that's an area where the Stars can focus over the next month or so. And beyond continuing to cut down on hooking, holding and interference (though honestly, Dallas is doing very well in this area overall), there's not a lot to complain about on the obstruction or other penalty front.
And they continue to force their opponents to foul to defend, as detailed in the chart below:
|Illegal check to head||0||0||0||1||1|
|Holding the stick||0||1||1||0||2|
|Too many men||2||0||1||1||4|
|Delay of game||1||1||6||3||11|
A few years ago, the Stars couldn't stop high sticking other teams. This year, the tables have turned. I'm not sure they're exactly happy about that - the faces of Alex Goligoski and Jamie Benn could use a break - but it's better than being on the other side of the equation.
On the especially bright side, just look at that hooking tally. The Stars speed - at least when they're playing teams who can't match it - is killer this year, and teams are forced to reach out with their sticks just to keep up. Fourteen hooking calls drawn in 15 games is a pretty astounding number, especially when you consider how much the Stars struggled to win early in this stretch of games.
As we'll see later this week, a big part of that number has been the improved play of Valeri Nichushkin, who is now a penalty drawing machine, as well as the top speed guys on the team doing their thing. And the hooking rise is also likely related to the drop in tripping, since both involve reaching with the stick and can be caused by a similar motion.
The Stars have a lot to be proud of in the penalty department so far this year, but there's still a long way to go yet.