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Penalty Parade: Do The Dallas Stars Take Hard To Play Against Too Far?

From the moment he arrived as Dallas Stars head coach, Glen Gulutzan has preached that he wants his team to be hard to play against.

The Stars have definitely become that this season, perhaps with a bit too much enthusiasm. They have the sixth most penalty minutes in the league and the fourth most total minors.

As your resident rules and refereeing nerd, I've kept detailed track of all the penalties the Stars have drawn and taken this season based on the official game reports from each night. The spreadsheet is just as nerd-tastic as it sounds.

But it also reveals some trends that tell much more about the Stars style of play than they do about the refereeing. After all, by my records, the Stars haven't had the same ref more than three games this season, so the impact any individual official has is fairly minimal on the overall numbers.

Basically, the Stars are taking nearly double the amount of penalties where the call involves player safety as their opponents, even after being on their best behavior the past few games, and they are taking interference-type penalties that indicate they are chasing the play too much.

For more information, including a detailed breakdown of exactly what the Stars have been guilty of this season, follow the jump.

First, a quick explanation of a few terms.

Among ref nerds, "safety calls" are penalties involving rules that protect player safety, things like boarding, charging, roughing, high-sticking and so on. "Interference calls" are the game-flow rules like hooking, tripping and holding. Then there are "other" fouls that don't fit neatly into either category or are black-and-white type rules. The five I break out here are too many men, diving, delay of game, unsportsmanlike conduct and the instigator. You could shoehorn those into the previous two categories, but there's enough of a gray area that I like to separate them.

Now that you know that, here's my accounting of all the minors the Stars and their opponents have been called for this year, with the caveat that I put matching minors into their own category and don't record where that would have fit in the safety/interference/other categories because it does not change the manpower advantage.

Type of call
Total minors
Safety minors
Interference minors
Other minors
Matching minors
Other majors

There is also one opponent's penalty shot not accounted for in these numbers.

Now, what do these numbers tell us?

First of all, despite how crazy the early-season too-many-men parade made us, the problem has been largely fixed. That's the good news.

The interference minors don't show a huge disparity, particularly given the style of play the Stars prefer. When you are willing to allow a little bit of a shooting gallery, even if only from the outside, or constant offensive-zone draws after icing, you are going to be chasing the possession and will therefore take more interference minors.

The safety calls are the biggest issue, with the Stars having nearly double the total of calls there. To discover why that is, we need to look at exactly what the Stars have been called for. These are only the minors that resulted in a change of manpower.

Call Total
Boarding 3
Charging 0
Cross checking 10
Elbowing 1
High sticking 10
Slashing 8
Roughing 9
Check to the head 0
Check from behind 0
Goalie interference 4
Holding 7
Holding the stick 2
Hooking 29
Interference 17
Tripping 12
Too many men 4
Delay of game 2
Unsportsmanlike 1
Instigator 0
Diving 0

Now, an observant fan will note that Steve Ott has been called for a dive this year, but since that was matched by another call, it doesn't show up on this list.

A few things jump out at me.

The first is the ridiculous number of hooks they've been called for. Now, league-wide, there was a crackdown on hooking early in the season where many players were getting called for little hand-hook touch fouls. But even so, the most common scenario for a hooking call is a player who has been beaten reaches out with his stick. If the Stars are chasing possession, which they have been for many games, this is a call that is fairly inevitable.

The more interesting numbers, at least to me, are in the safety calls. For one, the cross checks are way too high. Many of these come from battles in front of the net or along the boards, but it's easily avoidable. I think this one is a direct result of trying too hard to be "hard to play against." The Stars, particularly the defensemen, want to make the front of the net a hard area to be in, and a very easy way to do that is cross checks.

When the team got a little overzealous with the physical play during the five-game losing streak, they took three cross checking minors in that span. In fact, they took 12 overall safety minors in those five games to two by the opponents, including three slashes and two high-sticks.

Roughing is also very high, especially when you consider none of these roughs were matched with an opposing player. Again, I think this comes from being too enthusiastic at the "hard to play against" mantra. The Stars want to get in that little extra shot after the whistle, just to get in the other team's head. This one has settled down since the opening games, with only two in the last 13 contests.

High sticking and slashing, the other two high-volume calls, are more related to the possession and chasing issue, though less directly than hooking. High-sticking is always hard to quantify because it's usually accidental, and slashing can run the gamut from a tap when trying to stick-check to a two-hander to the back of the ankle. In general, the Stars are more guilty of the reaching type.

For those who are curious, here's what the Stars opponents have been called for this year.

Call Total
Boarding 5
Charging 0
Cross checking 3
Elbowing 0
High sticking 5
Slashing 6
Roughing 3
Check to the head 0
Check from behind 0
Goalie interference 5
Holding 9
Holding the stick 3
Hooking 13
Interference 10
Tripping 19
Too many men 2
Delay of game 4
Unsportsmanlike 1
Instigator 1
Diving 0

The safety call disparity really stands out here, particularly in roughing and cross checking. The numbers also show just how high the hooking calls are for Dallas.

Tripping is the call the Stars draw the most, which is both an indication that they move their legs well once they have the puck and that they're creating turnovers in dangerous areas of the ice.

Finally, a little tidbit for those who've made it this far. The reason Mark Fistric is being looked at by the Shanahammer is for charging, since they are trying to decide if he left his feet before the hit. If you look at the charts closely, neither the Stars nor their opponents have been called for charging this season, and the Stars have only been called for three boards, one of which was drawn on a 7.6 embellishment by Corey Perry.

For all the issues the Stars have had with safety minors, they're not a borderline-hitting team this year, and that's a good thing.