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How Bad Was the 2014/15 Dallas Stars Power Play? Not Nearly as Bad as You Think

The Stars power play came around, at least on the road, by the end of the season. What were some of the deeper trends affecting the results on special teams?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What if I told you that the Dallas Stars power play, which was the focus of so much angst at times during the season as it struggled to even look like a threat, wasn't as bad as it seemed?

I swear. Really.

Yes, that much maligned unit finished the year in the top half of the NHL with a 19 percent conversion rate, tied for 11th in the NHL and 0.3 percent out of the top 10. That's a pretty remarkable improvement for at team in the basement of the category at the season's midpoint that never seemed to hit a really dangerous run with the extra man.

But the numbers are all there on NHL.com. The Stars scored 55 goals on 290 power plays (second in the league to Detroit and 21 more than the nearest Western Conference opponent) for the 19.0 percent clip, tied with the Los Angeles Kings and just behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So what happened in the latter half of the season to assist in the turnaround? Simply put, the looks the Stars created started to go in, particularly on the road.

When you look at the shot totals on the power play, it becomes clear that the Stars didn't take the volume shooting approach of the Washington Capitals or San Jose Sharks. Those teams averaged 61.5 and 60.0 shots/60 (or shots taken in an average of 60 minutes) on the power play over the season, according to War-on-Ice.com, and it worked for both. Washington had the league's best power play and San Jose was sixth.

The Stars, meanwhile, had one of the lowest shot rates in the league - just 49.1 shots/60, fifth lowest in the league. And while volume shooting is considered better at even strength, there is some merit to being more selective with the shots. The New Jersey Devils, 29th in the league in shots/60, had the eighth best power play conversion percentage.

(Of note, these are taken from true shots on goal rather than shot attempts, unlike the general possession statistics.)

What made it work for both the Stars and Devils were high shooting percentages, though not unsustainably or unreasonably so. The Stars had the seventh highest shooting percentage in the league at 14.4, but six teams (all with top 10 power plays) put up shooting percentages of 15 percent or greater.

The higher shooting percentage combined with lower shot totals suggest the Stars were being choosy in what they threw on net, looking for prime opportunities rather than simple point shots. This matches up with a criticism from the coaching staff at points that the team tried to be too fancy, especially at home.

And the home numbers, at least from a conversion standpoint, point to some sort of marked difference. Dallas had the third best road power play in the NHL with a 23.3 percent conversion rate but was only 27th at home at 15.5. Having a bottom 10 home power play doesn't seem to hurt a team (five of the bottom 10 teams made the playoffs), but it may point to being too fancy.

That should be reflected in the shot numbers as well, but that falls apart. The Stars had exactly the same shots/60 - 49.1 - at home and on the road. It was bottom 10 in the league in both cases (ninth-worst on the road, fourth-worst at home) but it didn't change depending on the location or checking matchups.

So what can the eight percent drop in conversion be attributed to then? The answer lies in a combination of shooting percentage (which often boils down to luck) and shot location. War-on-Ice tracks scoring chances based on area of the ice - shot attempts within the "dangerous area" are said to be scoring chances - and there's a marked difference home and road there for Dallas. The Stars had 52.0 scoring chances/60 at home but only 43.0 scoring chances/60 on the road.

That seems counterintiutive - how does a team that creates more dangerous chances at a rate of 9 per 60 minutes have an eight percent lower conversion rate? But it points to the Stars looking for the close and dangerous shots at home, perhaps to a fault. If you don't only want to score but you want to score beautifully, you are going to abandon the simple approach - long shots that wouldn't count as scoring chances.

Which leads us right into shooting percentage. The Stars weren't great at the American Airlines Center, with an 11.4 percent conversion rate, good for 22nd in the league. But they were positively blistering on the road, outpacing all 29 other teams with a 18.6 percent shooting percentage.

How much of that is bad luck and how much was poor tactics? How much of it was the Stars uber-talented offensive top unit, which scored well more than half of the power play goals, trying too hard to impress at home? It's difficult to say. With the talent available, you can expect the Stars won't struggle as much at home next season, but you can also probably expect the road scoring to drop a bit.

Still, in the greatest sample size available for hockey analysis - the full 82-game regular season - this year's Stars weren't nearly as bad as perceived with the extra man. Credit the natural turn of luck, a dead-cat bounce near the end of the season or something else, but they took what was advertised as a supernova and showed themselves to be a reasonably warm supergiant instead.