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Penalty Progress: Breaking Down the Dallas Stars First-Half Trips To The Box

The Stars started off the 2013 with several issues that sent them to the penalty box with disturbing regularity. While there are still a few areas of concern, they have made some significant improvements as the season has progressed.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As we've reached the halfway point of the Dallas Stars lockout shortened 2013 season, it seems like a good time to take a look back at the trends the team has established through its first 24 games.

My particular area of expertise and statistical tracking is penalties, so I've been keeping a multi-focal spreadsheet that allows me to break down what types of calls the Stars have taken and drawn and which players are the most involved in those incidents. And yes, that spreadsheet is color-coded and exactly as nerdy as you imagine.

If you're new to my penalty articles or how I classify things, feel free to take a look at the first article I posted on the breakdowns this season. I also took a look at the first nine games versus the rest of the season a few days ago, since that's where the real turnaround started.

But now it's a good time to look at the season as a whole so far. Prepare yourself for many, many tables. Here's the first one - a simple comparison of the Stars penalty totals to that of their opponents over the first 24 games.

Total minors Safety Obstruction Other Matching Majors Fighting
Stars 114 31 56 13 14 1 14
Opponents 101 17 63 7 14 1 14

I prefer to compare teams to the games they play rather than the league as a whole because I think it gives a more fair picture. There's no way to equalize for different refereeing styles across games. For example, in a recent game, the Stars had a crew that featured Paul Devorski and Dennis LaRue, who call almost nothing, while Kyle Rehman has been involved in a pair of high-call games for Dallas. Given that, I think the best way to look at calls is to first examine only the games a team plays in and how the calls break down between the two teams in each game.

Given that, here's a look at how the Stars calls have broken down in the first two quarters of the season.

Total minors Safety Obstruction Other Matching Majors Fighting
First half 114 31 56 13 14 1 14
Games 1-12 63 24 27 5 7 0 4
Games 13-24 51 7 29 8 7 1 10

When you look at the overall picture of the first half, the Stars are still taking too many safety calls. However, when you break it down into quarters, the Stars have cleaned up that area tremendously. They took three-and-a-half times fewer safety penalties in the second quarter of the season as they did in the first. That's a hugely significant improvement and something that has helped take some of the pressure off of their penalty kill.

Obstruction-type calls have picked up just a smidge but not enough for me to consider it significant. The "other" calls, which include things like too many men and delay of game, are a bit of a concern because those calls should be relatively rare. The Stars numbers were inflated in the first quarter of the season by a rash of closing the hand on the puck calls, and they were doing okay in this category in the second quarter until a couple unsportsmanlike conduct calls against the Predators then a run of too many men calls. You'd like to see both those call rates in the next half.

As a point of comparison, here's a look at their opponent's breakdown.

Total minors Safety Obstruction Other Matching Majors Fighting
First half 101 17 63 7 14 1 14
Games 1-12 47 9 29 2 7 1 4
Games 13-24 54 6 34 5 7 0 10

Unlike the Stars, the opponents have been relatively consistent in most areas. There has also been an uptick in the "other" category, but that was very consistent before two delay of game - puck over glass calls in the most recent game against the Phoenix Coyotes.

What's also notable is that obstruction-type calls haven't dropped through the second quarter of the season, which occasionally happens after the start of the season when the officials are concentrating on particular areas of emphasis. That doesn't seem to have happened yet this year.

Here's how the individual calls have broken down this year, starting with the individual penalties the Stars have committed.

First half Games 1-12 Games 13-24
Boarding 8 5 3
Charging 0 0 0
Cross Checking 1 1 0
Elbowing 0 0 0
High-sticking 13 10 3
Slashing 5 4 1
Roughing 4 4 0
Goalie Interference 1 1 0
Holding 7 4 3
Holding the Stick 2 0 2
Hooking 21 8 13
Interference 16 8 8
Tripping 9 6 3
Too Many Men 3 0 3
Delay of Game 4 1 3
Closing the hand 3 3 0
Unsportsmanlike 3 1 2

This chart does not include entries for illegal check to the head, kneeing, checking from behind, instigators or diving because those are relatively uncommon calls that the Stars have yet to take this season.

You can really see the drop in safety calls in the second quarter of the season, highlighted by the drops in high sticks, slashing and roughing. On the obstruction side of the equation, they are still reaching with their sticks too much, though I would argue not significantly more than the first quarter of the season. The uptick in hooks is matched almost exactly by the drops in trips and slashes.

And here's how the breakdown of penalties drawn plays out for individuals. Because of the way I keep my spreadsheets, I do not have this broken down by game (sorry), so I can't break out first versus second quarter.

Player Penalties
Stephane Robidas 9 (3 hook, 3 interference, high stick, hold, trip)
Cody Eakin 8 (2 hook, 2 trip, hold, holding the stick, delay of game, closing the hand)
Vernon Fiddler 8 (2 hold, 2 trip, high stick, slash, rough, unsportsmanlike)
Jaromir Jagr 8 (4 hook, 2 slash, hold, delay of game)
Brenden Dillon 7 (4 interference, 1 board, 1 cross check, 1 high stick)
Philip Larsen 7 (2 board, 2 interference, high stick double, trip, delay of game)
Brenden Morrow 5 (2 high stick, goalie interference, hook, interference)
Eric Nystrom 5 (2 boarding, 2 interference, unsportsmanlike)
Ryan Garbutt 5 (2 trip, high stick, rough, hook)
Alex Goligoski 4 (hook, interference, trip, closing the hand)
Antoine Roussel 4 (2 rough, high stick, unsportsmanlike)
Michael Ryder 4 (board, high stick, slash, hook)
Trevor Daley 3 (high stick, interference, trip)
Jamie Benn 3 (board, high stick double, holding the stick)
Aaron Rome 3 (board, hook, delay of game)
Jordie Benn 3 (2 hold, high stick)
Reilly Smith 2 (hook, interference)
Loui Eriksson 2 (hook, interference)
Tom Wandell 2 (hook, closing the hand)
Jamie Oleksiak 2 (hook, trip)
Derek Roy 1 (hook)
Ray Whitney 1 (high stick)
Tomas Vincour 1 (slash)

Colton Sceviour, Kari Lehtonen, Richard Bachman, Cristopher Nilstorp, Matt Fraser and Erik Cole have not taken a minor with the Stars this season.

This chart does not include matching minors, which I keep as a separate category because it does not affect the manpower on the ice. The Stars have taken 14 of those this year, and Vernon Fiddler leads the way individually with three. The type of matching minor (dual roughings versus retaliation) can't be easily determined from game sheets, so I also don't have a breakdown there.

It also does not account for Jamie Benn's cross checking major or something not committed by a specific player, like delay of game.

The top of the list is dominated by defensemen and centers, which makes sense given the positional responsibilities. Given the quality of competition he's usually facing, it's not a surprise to see Robidas at the top of the list. His penalties fall into an area of emphasis (interference) and things you get called for when you lose position on an opponent (hooks, holding and tripping).

Jagr is a surprise at the top, though, given he's a winger who isn't usually considered a defensive stalwart. He has a bad habit of extending his stick if he's beaten by speed, though, which leads to so many hooks and slashes.

And here is the same breakdown for what the Stars have drawn so far, first from a team perspective.

First half Games 1-12 Games 13-24
Boarding 0 0 0
Charging 2 2 0
Cross Checking 3 1 2
Elbowing 1 1 0
High-sticking 4 0 4
Slashing 2 1 1
Roughing 4 4 0
Kneeing 1 0 1
Goalie Interference 4 2 2
Holding 13 7 6
Hooking 9 4 5
Interference 11 3 8
Tripping 26 13 13
Too Many Men 0 0 0
Delay of Game 6 2 4
Closing the hand 0 0 0
Unsportsmanlike 1 0 1

As above, this chart does not include entries for illegal check to the head, checking from behind, holding the stick, instigators or diving because those are relatively uncommon calls that the Stars have yet to draw.

The number that continues to jump out is tripping, which has been the main area the Stars have drawn calls. Tripping tends to be drawn when players are moving their feet, especially on the boards or in transition, which is something coaching staffs obviously emphasize. The Stars have also drawn more interference calls as they have improved on the time spent in their opponent's zone.

Here's the list of calls drawn by individual:

Player Penalties
Loui Eriksson 8 (3 hook, slash, knee, hold, interference, trip)
Jaromir Jagr 8 (4 trip, 3 hold, hook)
Alex Goligoski 7 (2 interference, 2 trip, charge, high stick, high stick double)
Brenden Morrow 6 (cross check, high stick, rough, hold, interference, trip)
Trevor Daley 5 (3 trip, hold, hook)
Reilly Smith 5 (3 hold, elbow, trip)
Jamie Benn 4 (cross check, hold, hook, interference)
Antoine Roussel 4 (rough, hold, hook, trip)
Stephane Robidas 3 (cross check, hook, interference)
Ray Whitney 3 (3 trip)
Kari Lehtonen 3 (3 goalie interference)
Vernon Fiddler 3 (high stick, interference, trip)
Jamie Oleksiak 3 (hold, interference, trip)
Michael Ryder 3 (slash, interference, trip)
Derek Roy 2 (2 trip)
Tom Wandell 2 (charge, hold)
Aaron Rome 2 (2 rough)
Ryan Garbutt 2 (interference, trip)
Brenden Dillon 1 (trip)
Cody Eakin 1 (interference)
Matt Fraser 1 (hook)
Cristopher Nilstorp 1 (goalie interference)
Jordie Benn 1 (trip)
Erik Cole 1 (trip)
Tomas Vincour 1 (trip)

Sceviour, Nystrom, Larsen and Bachman have not drawn an unmatched call for the Stars yet , though Nystrom has been involved in a few matching-minor type scrums.

The one that surprises me most on this list may be Eakin. He has tremendous speed and above average puck possession ability, but he's not been able to turn that into drawing things like tripping and hooking calls. Some of that may be he's simply a young player who doesn't yet get much benefit of the doubt yet, but his linemate Reilly Smith is in the same position and has had no problems drawing calls.

Also of note is Roussel, who has established a reputation for agitating others and being "hard to play against." But he draws most of his calls through speed and possession, not inspiring others to punch him in the nose. There's a lot to be said for the skills he brings to the table other than his feistiness.

And finally, the top of the list is dominated by veteran players. Some of this is skill level - Eriksson and Jagr are likely the two smartest puck protectors on the team, which means more players will result to illegal actions to try and force turnovers. But some of it is also benefit of the doubt and smart positional hockey. Morrow knows how to goad others into cross checking him in the kidneys while Daley knows how to drive his legs through stick checks to draw trips. Smith being so high on this list is a great indicator of his mature hockey sense.

If you've got any questions about the breakdown or call standards in general, feel free to leave a comment. My method of tracking and analysis is obviously far from perfect, and I'd love to hear input on the types of trends you guys would like to know more about.