With cooler temperatures having arrived and September now gloriously upon us, the countdown to Dallas Stars hockey is now in full swing and today we'll continue our look at the various items on new head coach Glen Gulutzan's "to do list." We covered the slow starts, we covered dealing with adversity and injuries, and now we turn our attention to what may be the biggest elephant in the Brad Richards-less room: The power play.
A lions share of the attention this month will be paid to Glen Gulutzan's system and the team's newly revamped style of play that goes along with over 30% roster turnover from last year to this one, but a problem that exists outside of systems and features mainly the same faces from the last several years is the power play. It was not what they needed it to be in 2010-2011.
One need only look at the Defending Big D back catalog and the frequency of the issue:
- Dallas Stars Need Power Play to Start Clicking (November)
- Dallas Stars Fall To Coyotes 5-2 As Road Power Play Woes Continue (December)
- Stars Need Richards' Return To Bolster Power Play (February)
- Hockeymetrics: How Much Does the Power Play Miss Jamie Benn? (March)
- For Dallas Stars, Road To Playoffs Requires Power Play Improvement (March)
- Do The Stars Shoot the Puck Enough on The Power Play? (March)
- Hockeymetrics: The Power Play is Failing The Stars At Home (March)
You can go to ESPN Dallas and the Dallas Morning News and find the same thing. Dallasstars.com did a couple of pieces on it as well. It started out with the curiously low road power play percentage (as low as 6% as far into the season as December) and then shifted to home ice in March where it was a major culprit in the Stars not taking advantage of a crucial home stand.
At 18% overall, it was technically one of the "better" power plays in the league at the #14 spot, but it wasn't good enough for a team that doesn't have a better even strength goal for/goals against ratio.
Enter Glen Gulutzan, who will lend his expertise to the proceedings. He coached the Texas Stars power play to 19.1% and 17.1% in that franchise's first two years, though it could be argued that he did so with offensive talent that was, by AHL standards, perhaps not as good as what many other teams had.
Perhaps the first thing the Stars can do to make their power play more effective isn't score more often, but keep pucks out of their own net while on the job...
Our friends at the Tampa Bay Lightning blog Raw Charge did an interesting study this summer on power plays and their adjusted value based on how many short handed goals they allowed. It seems their beloved Lightning surrendered a league leading 16 SHGA, spawning this post.
The Dallas Stars, it turns out, allowed the second most with 15 SHGA.
They calculate, with adjustments made, that the Stars #14 ranked power play was actually the #27 ranked power play taking this into account. Although the Lightning allowed more shorties, the Stars had the most precipitous drop in rank amongst all thirty teams. No other team fell double digit places.
You can view the post and their methodology/calculations here. The point is that by simply minding the point a little more effectively Dallas can increase the value of the power play goals that they're already scoring anyway.
In case you're interested, Brad Richards was on the ice for 12 of the 15 short handed goals against.
Personnel wise, Sheldon Souray and Michael Ryder are the two new faces that can be tried out on the power play. I already highlighted the issue of replacing Richards' PP minutes here and we discussed increased time for players like Steve Ott and Jamie Benn. Are those changes, along with a full season of Alex Goligoski, enough to offset the loss of Richards and can Gulutzan's coaching help close the gap or actually improve upon the 18% number?
Last September in preseason when Philip Larsen occasionally wound up from the point, the attention of the entire AAC press box was laser focused on it and I suspect that the first time "Studly Wonderbomb" cocks his cannon this year the interest will reach similar heights.
"His shot can help us, especially on the power play. He’s a guy that can score and we’ve needed that from the blue line," Mike Ribeiro told ESPN Dallas recently.
Ripping it from the point and converging doesn't invoke images of complicated schemes and a particular coach's unique fingerprints on a power play, but if it's a strategy that fits the pieces in place (Goligoski, Souray... Larsen?) then it could be a good enough answer.
Otherwise, in Richards' absence, running the power play from the half boards or even down low through Mike Ribeiro's unique skill set is something fans could see more often. Jamie Benn is another answer always on the tip of a Stars fan's tongue, but he's proven more effective in even strength "coast to coast"/rush situations thus far in his career. Power play contribution from him might be heavier on scheme and lighter on his brute strength and determination customarily seen when he's scoring.
Whatever the case, Dallas figures to be a team needing more points in the standings from fewer goals than last year, and that kind of desired efficiency would benefit greatly from an improved power play. It's just one of the challenges facing Glen Gulutzan as things get cranked up in September, and it's one of the things we look forward to reporting on from preseason games the most.