The Dallas Stars have been struggling to find their groove defensively all season. We're halfway through and they still seemingly make a lot of the same mistakes that they have made all season. At some point you begin to wonder if the issues will ever get sorted out. Despite roster changes, changes in pairings, and tactical shifts the Stars are still letting in goals at an unacceptable rate.
The uncomfortable question to ask is how much of the blame for that rests with the goaltending?
The triumvirate of Kari Lehtonen, Anders Lindback, and Jussi Rynnas has done little to inspire confidence, Often the defense has hung them out to dry, but they have also cumulatively been responsible for more than their share of soft goals. Its very easy to blame goalies for a team's defensive struggles so a natural tendency is to spread the blame around more equitably. Sometimes that can go a bit far though.
The team-wide goals against has been erratic all season. What I put together is the Stars even strength goals against per 60 minutes ten game moving average. It shows how many goals per 60 minutes the Stars are averaging every ten game increment.
What do we learn that we don't already know? Nothing. We know the goals against have been erratic. However that doesn't tell us much about how the Stars played in front of the keepers.
I came back to the prevailing idea that the Stars give up too many quality chances. War-On-Ice has been pulling scoring chance information so I thought it could be worth the time to dig around a bit to see if there is any evidence to support the idea that the Stars give up too many quality chances.
What I did was take the scoring chances against in even strength close situations and divided them by the Corsi against in the same situation. The idea is to see what percentage of shot attempts the Stars allow have actually been quality chances. I pulled the information together to show the ten game moving average.
Through 15 games 55% of the Corsi attempts the Stars allowed were scoring chances, but over the next 12-15 games the Stars knocked that percenage down to about 43%. The Stars have cruised along at about that point since. They currently sit at their best mark of the season. Over the past ten or so games the Stars have, overall, played their best defensive hockey of the season.
Every regular defenseman has been significantly better when it comes to allowing scoring chances, but none have had the improvement of Jordie Benn. The table below shows the same scoring chance stats as above, but for the individual defensemen. Prior refers to the games prior to the last ten. Change is the improvement in percentage points seen on average over the past ten games
Jason Demers and Trevor Daley have both also seen healthy bumps with Demers leading all Stars defensively. As a team the defense has been significantly better over the past ten games, and really it's been good enough to win games at even strength for about half of the season.
One of the big factors at play here has been Lehtonen's inability to stop what War-On-Ice terms "difficult shots". The Stars are surrendering less of these this year than last year, but Lehtonen's save percentage on those shots has dropped significantly. In 2014 he sat at .867. This year it has dropped to .815. Over 300 shots, about what he is on pace for again this year, that's a difference of close to 17 goals.
In the 2012 season Lehtonen was at .847. In the prior two seasons Lehtonen was back at .812 and .813. Which is the real Lehtonen? The Stars easiest path back into contention is with the Lehtonen of the recent past returning, but time for that to happen is running short.
The Stars defense appears to be turning itself around nicely, but there is no real telling if this is sustainable. Shot quality is a tricky subject, but it does appear that in the recent past the Stars have gone a long way to improve the quality of shots they give up. Whether or not that is sustainable is another question entirely.
Long story short though, give Jordie Benn a break.