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Dallas Stars Penalty Problems: What's Led To The March To The Box

An in-depth look at the penalty issues facing the Dallas Stars in this young season and who has been at fault the most.

Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

If there's been one consistent problem for the Dallas Stars this season, it's been their drawn-out march to the penalty box.

The Stars have a disturbing tendency to shoot themselves in the foot with the sheer volume of minors they are called for in a game, from repeatedly high-sticking the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday to resorting hooking and tripping to stay up with the Chicago Blackhawks last week.

These problems aren't reflected in the average penalty minutes because the Stars have taken relatively few majors this season. The two fights against Detroit were their first of the season. But when you break it out into just the minor penalties, the picture is a lot more grim. Dallas is 28th in the league with 37 total minor penalties in seven games played. That's 5.29 penalties a game, which translates into more than 10 minutes on the penalty kill or, often, goals against.

In order to better understand what's going on with the penalty problems, we took a look at exactly what the Stars have been called for this year, and we'll follow up tomorrow with what calls they're drawing from their opponents.

But for now, the ugly, ugly numbers, which are current through last night's game against the Red Wings.

Total Safety Interference Other Matching
Dallas 37 14 17 3 3
Opponents 29 4 21 1 3

I'm using the same categories I did last year for the penalties, but if you're new to all this, here's a brief recap.

"Safety" stands for player safety penalties, which include boarding, charging, cross checking, elbowing, high-sticking, slashing, roughing and the really nasties. "Interference" are for the obstruction-type calls, your holds, hooks, trips interference and the like. And "other" is generally game-flow rules and unsportsmanlike. Delay of game and too many men are the biggies here, though the Stars have a fondness for the closing the hand on the puck rule this year.

So what does that tell us? For starters, the Stars have a huge problem with the safety minors, and it's not the style of games the refs are calling. The Stars have committed more safety-penalty violations than their opponent in every single game this year. The interference-type calls are fairly even, while the game-control call difference come from one silly little problem.

But what exactly are they so guilty of? I've got that right here, sorted by number of calls.

Call Number
High sticking 7
Hooking 6
Interference 5
Boarding 3
Closing hand on puck 3
Holding 3
Tripping 3
Matching minors 3
Roughing 2
Cross checking 1
Slashing 1

The biggest problem by far has been high-sticking. You can make a legitimate argument that some of these calls were unlucky or not particularly well made, such as the Ray Whitney and Jamie Benn high sticks against the Red Wings that started the collapse last night. You can even reach back to opening night against the Phoenix Coyotes and the Brenden Morrow high stick where the player tripped forward onto a stick that was only chest-high.

Still, even if some of the calls are unlucky, the Stars have got to find a way to stop taking them. They are sitting in the box once a game for a high stick, and that doesn't count that two of those have been double minors. And when you combine the number of high sticks with the number of hooks, you start to see a trend.

For whatever reason, the Stars are getting their sticks extended away from their bodies and up in the air at numbers far greater than their opponents. High sticking and hooking generally involve a blade that's extended in the general direction of an opponent and up in the air somewhat. Why might that be? Perhaps they are chasing the play too much and reaching with the sticks to make up for lost room, or maybe they're struggling with conditioning and not paying enough attention of keeping their sticks near the ice, but there's obviously something going on.

Interference is less of a concern for me because that's a point of emphasis this year, and all teams are taking them in high numbers. As you'll see in tomorrow's post, the Stars opponents have been called for interference nearly as many times as Dallas has. Closing the hand on the puck covers a penalty against Alex Goligoski plus two faceoff violations. I assume that as players adjust to the new rule and as they determine what, exactly, constitutes the end of a faceoff, this will improve.

At least two of the other silly safety fouls - a boarding against Jamie Benn and a roughing against Vernon Fiddler - have come in the dying seconds of games and are relatively inconsequential, but they still contribute to a team reputation that isn't doing the Stars any favors in the eyes of the referees.

If you're looking for the individuals to pin this problem on, here's the guilty parties in the penalty parade and what they've been nailed for this year.

Player Total Calls
Philip Larsen 5 Interference (2), High sticking double minor, Boarding, Tripping
Vernon Fiddler 5 Holding (2), High Sticking, Roughing, Hooking
Brenden Dillon 2 Cross checking, Interference
Brenden Morrow 2 High sticking, Interference
Jamie Benn 2 Boarding, High stick double minor
Cody Eakin 2 Tripping, Closing hand on the puck
Tom Wandell 2 Hooking, Closing hand on the puck
Eric Nystrom 2 Boarding, Interference
Ryan Garbutt 2 Roughing, Tripping
Jaromir Jagr 2 Holding, Interference
Stephane Robidas 1 Hooking
Trevor Daley 1 High sticking
Ray Whitney 1 High sticking
Reilly Smith 1 Hooking
Alex Goligoski 1 Closing hand on the puck
Jordie Benn 1 High Sticking
Michael Ryder 1 Hooking
Tomas Vincour 1 Slashing

For those playing the home game, that does not include the three matching/coincidental minors (which involved Robidas, Daley and Jamie Benn). And these, like all these numbers, count a double-minor for high sticking as one call.

By my count, 17 different players have already taken at least one minor. That's everyone in the lineup save the goalies, Colton Sceviour, Derek Roy, Aaron Rome and Loui Eriksson. It's not a single player problem (although Fiddler and Larsen can feel free to stop any time now); it's an entire team issue.

I'll be the first to admit, I've not been a fan of some of these calls. But this much of a problem indicates the Stars are consistently putting themselves in disadvantageous positions where they can be called. If the stick isn't raised and extended, they're not going to call hooking or high sticking.

Of course, it's a lot easier to diagnose the problem than actually solve it, and the Stars had better get to work on solving it. Even though they're only seven games into the season, the compressed schedules gives them no wiggle room to work with.