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Dallas Stars Penalty Report Card: Breaking Down December 2013 in Team Minors

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Calls were up in the final month of 2013, and there are certainly things to work on, but it's still mostly good news for the Stars in the penalty department.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

With another month behind the Dallas Stars in the 2013-14 season, not to mention the calendar year of 2013, it's once again time to take a look at how the team is faring in the penalty department.

Since we're getting deep into the season, I'm going to start breaking these up into two posts so we can look at changes over time. Today, we'll look at the team trends and how they've changed over the first three months of the season. Sometime next week, we'll look at individuals and who is being called for and drawing what.

If you want to check out the first two entries in this ongoing series, you can find October here and November here.

Before we get into the team penalty charts, a couple notes on penalty shots.

With Valeri Nichushkin's successful bid last night, the Stars now have three penalty shot goals on six opportunities. That's a franchise record for both attempts and goals. To be best I can discern, they are within one goal of tying the NHL record for both attempts in a season (seven, held by at least four teams) and goals in a season (four, held by at least the 05/06 Carolina Hurricanes, the 03/04 Minnesota Wild and the 86/87 Calgary Flames, who were 4-for-4 that year). Those records came from digging through almost every team's media guide, so if you know differently, just let me know.

It's already a little absurd, and even more so when you consider the Stars have more than half the season in front of them, if just barely. The rate of penalty shots has fallen off a bit since early in the season, but you'd think given the way they run things in transition, the Stars will probably earn at least 1-2 more this year.

And really, if anyone has a St. Louis Blues media guide or even just the access to their penalty shot history, I'd be in your debt.

Now, onto the month in minors. Since December had 15 games as opposed to 12 games in October and November, I put the rate per game in parenthesis next to the total for these overall charts.

Here's how things have gone for the Stars:

Total minors Safety Obstruction Other Matching Majors Fighting
October 48 (4) 13 (1.08) 26 (2.17) 2 (0.17) 7 (0.58) 0 8 (0.67)
November 38 (3.17) 10 (0.83) 21 (1.75) 3 (0.25) 4 (0.33) 0 4 (0.33)
December 65 (4.33) 22 (1.47) 23 (1.53) 11 (0.73) 9 (0.60) 0 3 (0.20)
Total 151 (3.78) 45 (1.13) 70 (1.75) 16 (0.40) 20 (0.50) 0 15 (0.38)

Calls for the entire league, not the just Stars, jumped back up in December. Some of it was a little bit of an emphasis on calls all the way around - the league got embarrassed by the rash of suspensions it had to hand out and seems to have told officials to tighten up. But both the Stars and their opponents also developed a love for shooting the puck out of play in December, which has nothing to do with call style.

The heartening thing is that the Stars continue to cut down on the number of obstruction fouls they are called for. That's significant because it shows they are possessing the puck more as the season goes on and aren't in the position to need to foul to defend.

Here are the calls the Stars have drawn, for comparison.

Total Minors Safety Obstruction Other Matching Majors Fighting
October 47 (3.92) 14 (1.67) 20 (1.67) 6 (0.50) 7 (0.58) 0 8 (0.66)
November 43 (3.58) 17 (1.42) 21 (1.75) 1 (0.83) 4 (0.33) 0 4 (0.33)
December 67 (4.47) 17 (1.13) 33 (2.20) 8 (0.53) 9 (0.60) 1 (0.07) 4 (0.27)
Total 157 (3.93) 48 (1.20) 74 (1.85) 15 (0.38) 20 (0.50) 1 (0.03) 16 (0.40)

The first thing that jumps out at me, since I'm OCD like this, is that the number of fighting majors doesn't match in December. That's because the Zac Rinaldo of the Flyers took the exceedingly rare unmatched fighting major when he, for no real apparent reason, jumped Antoine Roussel early in the Stars 5-1 win.

You can see here how the "other" category, which is generally stuff that's pretty black and white (with some notable exceptions like unsportsmanlike conduct) and outside of referee influence, has really taken an uptick in December. And for the Stars opponents, while the safety fouls dropped significantly, there was a noticeable uptick in obstruction fouls.

In a vacuum, this could simply be a function of things like slashing being called hooks. But given the Stars general shooting exploits during the month and how they're giving up fewer of this type of call on their end, I'd hypothesize that it's just another symptom of improved puck possession. When you have the puck, people are forced to hook, hold and trip you more.

Here's how things have broken down by individual call, starting with what the Stars have been guilty of. For the benefit of my remaining sanity, I did not add the average-per-game data to this, but do remember that December had three more games.

October November December Total
Boarding 0 0 3 3
Cross checking 5 3 4 12
Elbowing 0 0 2 2
High sticking 4 4 3 11
Slashing 2 1 5 8
Roughing 0 2 4 6
Illegal check to head 0 0 1 1
Kneeing 2 0 0 2
Holding 6 7 3 16
Hooking 10 7 10 27
Interference 5 2 5 12
Tripping 5 5 5 15
Too many men 0 0 2 2
Delay of Game 1 3 6 10
Closing hand on the puck 0 0 1 1
Unsportsmanlike conduct 0 0 2 2
Instigator 1 0 0 1

The Stars have not yet been called for charging, checking from behind, goalie interference, holding the stick (at least not until January) and unmatched diving, though Ryan Garbutt earned every bit of his charging suspension early this season.

Starting with the good news, we head back to the obstruction calls, particularly holding. The Stars, even with the phalanx of young defensemen they are running out there, are doing a very good job saying just this side of legal in board battles (where I'd say 70 percent of holding takes place). All the other obstruction calls are in the extremely reasonable range as well.

The good news about the safety calls is two-fold. The first is that part of the uptick, notably boarding, is a bit of a run of bad luck. Boarding is a penalty of result, which is a quick way of saying you can throw the same hit and the three times out of 10 the player being hit is off balance, it's boarding. These are, generally speaking, calls the Stars aren't earning by doing something preventable (though the rule exists because the league wants players to think twice about body slamming someone in these situations).

What the Stars do need to focus on is eliminating silly physical fouls like elbowing and unmatched roughing. Neither of these ever really needs to be taken. And we'll talk much more about the guilty parties next week, but Garbutt needs to calm down with the dangerous stuff. He is the owner of the illegal check to the head call, and he's going to get suspended again if he doesn't rein it back in just a hair.

As far as the other calls, unsportsmanlikes are pretty universally preventable, and the Stars have developed a nasty little habit of falling on the puck (which ends up in two categories here depending on how the official saw it, either closing the hand on the puck or delay of game) and have shot the puck out of play a few too many times. This will be something I'm definitely watching for in January.

Finally, here's how their opponents have fared over the past three months.

October November December Total
Boarding 1 1 3 5
Cross checking 1 3 0 4
Elbowing 1 0 0 1
High sticking 5 6 7 18
Slashing 4 3 3 10
Roughing 2 2 4 8
Goalie interference 0 1 1 2
Holding 5 4 4 13
Holding the stick 0 1 1 2
Hooking 5 9 11 25
Interference 6 2 7 15
Tripping 4 6 9 19
Too many men 2 0 1 3
Delay of Game 1 1 6 8
Closing hand on puck 1 0 0 1
Unsportsmanlike 2 0 0 2
Instigator 0 0 1 1

The Stars have not drawn a charge, illegal check to the head, check from behind, knee or unmatched dive. There is also a major for boarding not accounted for here as well as the unmatched fighting major mentioned above.

In a preview of next week, I will say pity poor Alex Goligoski's face. He's had a lot of high sticks this year already. That's the obvious standout in the safety calls here.

The obstruction calls are interesting because you can really see how the Stars' team speed is forcing opponents into interference-type fouls. Hooking and tripping typically happen when one opponent is beaten and the player behind him starts reaching with a stick. The Stars speed and transition game is forcing opponents to foul them because they can't keep up.

In all, I'd call this a very successful (almost) first half of the season for the Stars. While there are definitely some areas of concern that we'll dive into in a little more depth next week, the Stars have eliminated a lot of the real problem areas from last year and have become a team that makes other teams have to foul them.

Now if only that power play was ready to take advantage of it...