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Penalty Parade: How The Stars Have Slowed Their March To The Box

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For about the first quarter of the season, Dallas Stars fans, and probably the team's coaches and players, were driven more than slightly crazy by the team's habit of taking silly penalties at critical moments.

And as the season has worn on, though, things seem to have gotten better. Although they're still in the bottom third of the league in times shorthanded, though just barely at 21st overall, they've been slowly creeping up that list and out of a self-induced penalty hole.

The balance they've been trying to reach is balancing the mantra of "hard to play against" with not playing stupid, a style that may have been best summed up in the New Year's Eve victory over the Boston Bruins. Sure, the Stars took three minors that game but they drew the Bruins into six and kept the stupid stuff to a minimum.

But what to the numbers say about the number of penalties the Stars and their opponents have taken, and where can their still be improvement? Since we're indulging our more nerd-tastic side during the All-Star break, I went back to my spreedsheet of individual calls and crunched the numbers again. They are much more favorable for the Stars this time.

To see how much more favorable, see after the jump.

For those of you who missed the first article, here are a couple term definitions.

"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. The "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.

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. "Recent" is the last 22 games, since that's the span since the last time I ran this data. The first set was compiled at 26 games.

Type of Call Stars recent Opponent recent Stars total Opponent total
Total minors 87 91 219 193
Safety minors 19 24 60 46
Interference minors 43 41 114 100
Other minors 8 9 15 17
Matching minors 17 17 30 30
Fights 11 11 22 22
Other majors
0 0 0 0
Misconducts 4 4 9 9
Game misconducts 0 1 0 1

Just as a point of amusement, more than 10 percent of the Stars overall penalties, as well as unmatched calls, came in that 5-4 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings. Dennis LaRue and Dan O'Halloran were busy boys that night.

Now, some very observant people will point out that calls throughout the league have dropped as the season has gone on, so that might be responsible for the Stars improved behavior.

But looking at just Stars games, the difference in average calls per game is all about Dallas. Through the first 26 games of the season, the Stars opponents averaged 3.92 minor penalties per game while the Stars took 5.08. Over the last 22 games, Stars opponents have averaged 4.14 minors a game while the Stars have shaved more than one call per game off their average, dropping to 3.95.

The makeup of the calls against for the Stars has also changed significantly. Over the first 26 games, safety infractions made up 31.0 percent of the Stars minor penalties. Since then, safety calls are only 21.8 percent of the team's minors. That's much closer to average.

So where is that big drop coming from? Here's a look at how the individual minors break down for Dallas.

Type of call Recent Previous Total
Boarding 1 3 4
Charging 0 0 0
Cross checking 3 10 13
Elbowing 1 1 2
High sticking 2 10 12
Slashing 6 8 14
Roughing 4 9 13
Check to the head 1 0 1
Kneeing 1 0 1
Check from behind 0 0 0
Goalie interference 0 5 5
Holding 8 7 15
Holding the stick 0 2 2
Hooking 12 29 41
Interference 7 17 24
Tripping 15 12 27
Too many men 3 4 7
Delay of game 4 2 6
Unsportsmanlike 1 1 2
Instigator 0 0 0
Diving 0 0 0

In terms of safety calls, there are pretty noticeable drops across the board except in the category of slashing, which is kind of a tweener category in that some slashes are stick-on-stick and more in the interference vein. But the Stars big problem areas of the first quarter of the season, which were unmatched cross checks and roughings, have dropped dramatically, and the high sticks have all but disappeared.

This, combined with the uptick in matching minors, tells me the Stars have found that fine line how far to push teams without crossing over into taking a minor. The Stars, and certain guys like Sheldon Souray and Brenden Morrow in particular, used to be bad about retaliating to a borderline hit with something clearly illegal, and they are walking that line much better than before.

The drops in high sticking and hooking tell me the team is much more disciplined with their sticks. Both of those calls result from a stick being extended away from the body, either into someone's face or around their midsection. When a team starts keeping its sticks down, those calls start being a lot less frequent, and that's what we've seen.

Now what can they improve on? Tripping jumps out immediately, as does the delay of game. But honestly, the one I would most like to see is the unmatched roughings going away entirely. Most of the other safety calls have some place as an attempt at a hockey play - cross checks can happen trying to move guys from in front of the net, boarding and charging can be legit checks gone dangerous. But unmatched roughing, which is called when one player gets his hands in the face of the other, should almost never happen. Four times over 22 games is much better than nine over 26, but it can be much better.

Here's how all the opponent's penalties break down.

Type of call Recent Previous Total
Boarding 3 5 8
Charging 3 0 3
Cross checking 4 3 7
Elbowing 0 0 0
High sticking 6 5 11
Slashing 3 6 9
Roughing 5 3 8
Check to the head 0 0 0
Kneeing 0 0 0
Check from behind 0 0 0
Goalie interference 1 5 6
Holding 4 7 11
Holding the stick 2 3 5
Hooking 10 13 23
Interference 12 10 22
Tripping 14 19 33
Too many men 2 2 4
Delay of game 3 4 7
Unsportsmanlike 2 1 3
Instigator 1 1 2
Diving 1 0 1

The single dive was on Jordin Tootoo, when he was involved in a matching minor plus an extra minor altercation with Vernon Fiddler.

Unlike the Stars, you can see here that their opponents have remained relatively consistent in more penalty categories. There's been a downturn in goalie interference and tripping and an uptick in charging and interference, but nothing that really screams trend at this point. Because the Stars opponents stats are built on a conglomeration of teams, no one style is overly represented.

Now, if only the power play would start taking advantage of those opportunities. I guess you can't have everything.