Hockey teams that win have the puck more. Teams that have the puck more attempt more shots. It's a conclusion that is as inescapable as it is controversial as pro-analytic types and old school hockey minds battle over it, ironically, largely on social media.
The Dallas Stars have made great strides in puck-possession numbers this season while also compiling some pretty counter-intuitive results in a growing sample size that screams for yet-unrealized market correction.
Which is to say that they often times greatly out-shoot their opponents and get nothing to show for it.
The Stars dropped to 7-2-2 in their last 11 games after an improbable loss to Tampa Bay Saturday, and in the case of those two regulation losses they out-worked the opposition, out-shooting them mightily en route to frustration. You know what happened yesterday. In the other 'L' the Stars dropped a 4-3 final to Colorado despite out-shooting the Avs 44-21, including a 19-8 margin in the second period after falling behind by two in the first. Sound familiar?
Then there was the 3-2 loss at home to another Eastern Conference team in the New York Rangers in which the Stars out-shot them 43-27.
"Give Lundqvist a lot of credit, he made some big saves," Lindy Ruff said afterward. "But we talked about the start, we talked about getting pucks to the net, we probably had ten, 11, 12 good opportunities you don't convert."
So you chalk those up to "hockey gods" and goaltending and hope that level of play over a long period of time gives the results you're looking for.
But there was also the 3-2 loss to Edmonton, again on home ice, where Dallas again topped 40 shots (45 on Ilya Bryzgalov and Dubnyk) and sent the home crowd home unhappy.
And the 3-2 loss to Toronto after dominating the Leafs all night long (50 shots to 24) where Jonathan Bernier stood on his head for 60 minutes. "I give their goalie a lot of credit," Ruff simply said afterward. Because what else can you say? 50 shots!
Don't forget the 41-26 shots-on-goal differential in Colorado on October 16th. The comments on that one could have been used yesterday.
"We really dominated the play chart," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said that night. "The second and third periods the opportunities were there. [...] Probably our best game on a chance sheet and Varlamov came up with some beauties."
Varlamov. Bernier. Varlamov. Howard. Dubynk. Bishop. The next one.
All in all the Stars have lost eight of their nine games where they generate better than 40 shots on goal.
In the National Hockey League this season teams have reached 40 shots or greater 151 times. They've gone a collective 74-30-47 in that span, good for a .646 points percentage. It's a recipe for success, there's no doubt about it. (It jumps to .670 when you take out Dallas' record)
The Stars have managed just 1-5-3, or .277 hockey in comparison when posting 40 or better. Only the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers have reached 40 shots more often than has Dallas. It should be a comparative advantage over the majority of their peers, and yet it is, on occasions such as this morning, a "sore spot", to say the least.
And it's at this point in protracted rhetoric such as this about a rather simplistic topic that most would look for a conclusion- I think it's multiple choice this time:
Door #1: It's a good thing.
A very good thing, though they lose so many of them. It's indicative of the direction of the team under Jim Nill. It's indicative of how they want to play as they grow, and learn, and acquire. It's a tremendous leap for a team that tried in past years to get by on the charms of their goaltender and a penchant for winning games in which they were greatly out-possessed. The Stars are a very positive possession team, and that might be enough of a step forward this season, even if we don't want to believe it in early March.
Door #2: It's a very bad thing.
They're probably going to miss the playoffs this year, the smart money and the computer models say. Vancouver will rebound and Phoenix will back in one shootout loss at a time and an inexperienced Dallas team will learn some tough lessons. Maybe.
So these points- These 2, 4, 6, 8, 10+ points seemingly earned, yet stolen by bad luck and individual netminding feats, will hurt and hurt bad come mid-April.
It's possible both of these things ring true.
But how in the world does this keep happening to a team that's working hard enough to get a few breaks more than they've seen? The math may even out. The statisticians may yet be vindicated. Or it could be that learning how to close out games, how to execute, how to win, is something they've still got to figure out. THAT save when you need it. THAT power play converted in the key moment.
Individually these games are shoulder shruggers. ("If they keep playing this way they'll be fine...") Collectively they paint a recurring picture that's hard to explain. One that may keep them from where they want to be.
Or it's a bunch of bad luck and they (we) need to get over it.
Either way, get ready for more Ben Bishop on April 5th in Tampa.
- Ben Bishop Stands Tall as Tampa Bay Lightning Defeat Dallas Stars 4-2
- Dallas Stars Daily Links: One Game At A Time
- Gameday Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning @ Dallas Stars (2:00pm CST)
- St. Louis Blues Acquire Ryan Miller, Steve Ott in Trade from Buffalo Sabres; Stars Extend Colton Sceviour
- Dallas Stars Alumni Association To Hold Alumni Game; Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk Among Participants