Special teams and goaltending, Razor always says, are the keys to winning hockey games. Defense may be a Stars fans' primary area of concern these days, but these two areas have had more than their fair share of consternation in these two playoff-less seasons. One of our biggest questions coming into camp last season was "Is Marc Crawford going to fix the power play?" (to go along with "Can Marty bounce back?")
On August 22nd, an entire season and off-season later, the answer may seem like "not really," but the numbers say that he in fact did. The Stars ranked 27th in the league in Tippett's final season here with a PP conversion rate of 15.4%. A season later under Crawford, that was bumped all the way to 12th with an 18.6%. A 15 spot jump is impressive from one season to the next when you have the exact same players to work with. They didn't get their big booming shot or puck moving defenseman last off-season either, but the man advantage was a much better one anyway.
On the other side of the coin, we remember how we felt as fans last season. Particularly on the road. Or do we? Would it surprise you to know that Dallas scored 32 PP goals at home and 30 on the road? I wouldn't have thought the split so even. There were times when we joked about declining power plays because they seemed to sap the life and momentum from the Stars game when they were unable to convert.
Even with the statistical improvements, it's hard to call 18.6% good, but it's worth noting that the percentages were down league wide last year. The year before, 18.6% would have gotten them 19th in the league, not 12th.
So at the risk of being greedy after a year of marked improvement, what can the Stars do better next year on the PP?
(Besides, for a team whose defensive inadequacies could (did?) fill an entire off-season with inane blog chatter like this, the old adage "The best defense is good offense" might be a good one to keep in mind.)
Let's start with what they did well last year. It seems a good first step to me to try to boil success down to the lowest common denominator and then go from there and look for patterns. What lineups had the most success for Crawford's PP last season?
Starting with entire 5 man PP units, the group of Robidas, Morrow, Eriksson, Ribeiro and Richards had the most at a count of six...
6... Out of 62. Not exactly compelling.
The truth is the Stars scored 62 power play goals with 48 different lineups last year. (If you want to see the list, email me, it's ugly to post it here. Also, if you want to see the list, you're as deranged as I am.) The next most successful five were Niskanen, Morrow, Benn, Ribeiro and Richards with 4 goals, which is some kind of hybrid 1st/2nd unit power play. Looking for patterns amongst such a small group of players who get significant power play time is a fruitless chore. The more one stares at the numbers, the more one realizes there is only one great constant on the power play:
Brad Richards is the Dallas power play, any way you want to look at it. He had 405:27 of power play TOI last year. The next closest on the team was Loui Eriksson with 262:41, and using the word "closest" there is a sham. Knowing his domination of PPTOI makes the next stat pretty self explanatory and perhaps less meaningful: The Stars don't score on the PP unless Brad Richards is on the ice.
He either scored, had the primary assist, or had the secondary assist on 41 of their 62 power play goals last year. He was on the ice for 57 of 62 power play goals last year. Only five times did they manage a PP goal with him sitting on the bench. The prognosis here is not difficult. More Brad Richards, if it's even possible. (RE: re-sign Richards)
That's a given. But what can they do differently?
Faceoffs. Win more of them. (Subtitled: DUH)
The new rule that places all faceoffs immediately following a penalty that puts a team up a man in the offensive zone regardless of puck location when the whistle blew (try to diagram this sentence) was meant to be a boon to power play percentage, and yet it fell last year, as I already mentioned. Still, if you can win the face off, you're more likely to get more shots on goal. (For a discussion of offensive zone faceoffs and subsequent shots on goal, visit Behind The Net for a great read.)
The Stars did a fair job of winning their PP draws last year with a .521% as a whole, but there were individual failure...
2009-2010 PP Draws:
|Player||Total PP Draws||Wins||Losses||Percentage|
Mike Modano's 210, team leading, power play faceoffs are going away. He was OK at them. Not great, but OK. Where do those get redistributed? Here we have our first real opportunity to suggest a change that looks like it will be for the better, even if it is common sense: Have Brad Richards take more faceoffs.
Hockey" X's and O's guys" will tell you why having your point man take the faceoff is a bad idea. I'm going to tell you that before any of that matters, having possession of the puck is better than not having possession of the puck.
Steve Ott figures to get more of these draws as well, which I'll talk about in a minute, and Jamie Benn could see his PP draws increase too. Regardless, Ribeiro's numbers are consistent with his overall faceoff game: Not good, and he could absorb some of the Modano deficit.
Steve Ott was 10th on the team in PPTOI/Game with 1:59. That number was up from earlier in the year, and he responded with 8 power play goals on the year with limited opportunity, scoring as many as James Neal and Loui Eriksson put together, believe it or not.
Ott's faceoff percentage (though a small sample size) and effectiveness in bursts last year have to earn him a closer look this season. With Modano's minutes gone and shuffled around, Ott should be given time, not just with the second unit, but with the first as well. He had 10 power play points last year and was on the ice for 17 of the Stars 62 power plays goals. When you look at his TOI compared to everyone else and the percentage of goals he was on the ice for, it's clear he can help this thing. Or at least he did last year.
Southpaw Trevor Daley.
The Stars primaries on the point were Robidas and Richards. They will be again. Matt Niskanen was given the minutes when Robidas rested, largely, we feel, because he's right handed. Allow me, for a second, to explore the possibility that Trevor Daley might be the better option.
Again, I'm going to frame the argument in terms of PPTOI/Game and opportunity versus actual production and perceived impact.
Niskanen got 2:56 PPTOI/G from Crawford, Daley only 1:40 (and that seems high to me..)
What did Niskanen do with such a dramatic, gargantuan dichotomy of opportunity? He scored no goals and had five assists. He was on the ice for 18 PP goals. Daley, with a much smaller window equaled Niskanens' PP point output at 5. 2 of them were actually goals.
Is this a flimsy argument? Maybe. Should Trevor Daley be given more time on the 2nd unit? What say you?
There are some other things that need to happen that bare little discussion. Jamie Benn needs more time on the PP, and he'll get it with Modano gone. He performed well with 7 power play points last season while being 11th in PPTOI/Game. His goal total on the year is that much more impressive when you consider he did nearly all of his damage at even strength. Next year he'll get a chance to pad his total with some PP goals as well.
Second, someone wake James Neal up. Almost three minutes of PPTOI/G and only one goal? That needs to change.
Keep doing what you're doing.
And by that I mean "keep earning those power plays." Whatever else happened last season, the Stars were 2nd best in the league at SOMETHING... Drawing penalties!
Their 328 pp opportunities was second only to Carolina who had 332. The year before the Stars were 13th in the NHL. Chalk that up as a win for Marc Crawfords' system. (And James Neal and Steve Ott, who drew a ton of them)
Will any of these tweaks and (in most cases) inevitable changes yield a high percentage next year? It's hard to say. This discussion might be rendered moot by their inability to get the d-man they need to help run their extra-man unit. Is this another of those things that boils down to the blue line and the internal budget in the end, or is there really and truly room for improvement on the power play?