Since the calendar flipped over to 2016, things haven't been quite as fine for the Dallas Stars.
Sure, the team is still sitting in an extremely comfortable playoff position with a double-digit margin over the second wild card position, but the losses that they avoided for the first three months of the season all of a sudden seem to be piling up. Since the start of January, the team is just 1-3-1.
But a quick look at some of the underlying numbers shows some reason for optimism. The Stars struggles seem to be confined to the three areas most affected by luck and defensive fatigue - save percentage, shooting percentage, and scoring chance percentage.
For the first three months of the season, in all situations, the Stars had a Corsi For % (or percentage of total shot attempts taken in a game) of 52.6 percent with 117.3 total shot attempts for both teams for every 60 minutes. Their PDO was a relatively reasonable 101.1, their offensive zone start percentage was 52.1 percent, and they had 53 percent of the high-danger scoring chances in a game and 54.2 percent of the scoring chances overall.
Breaking down the PDO even further, the on-ice save percentage was 0.925 and the shooting percentage at 8.6.
During the recent slump, the Stars have had a CF% of 53.6 with 109.2 events per game and 53.7 percent of the starts in the offensive zone. The PDO is a pretty sad 95.3 while they also are at 40 percent in high-danger scoring chances and 47.8 in scoring chances.
(Of note, without the game against the New York Rangers, the Stars are a much more respectable 49.47 in scoring chances and a slightly improved 42 in high-danger chances. The big outlier for the high-danger chances is the loss to the Minnesota Wild.)
The Stars are shooting 6.6 percent during this span and are getting a save percentage of just 0.887.
The numbers are sightly further apart score adjusted and also in close situations, but the Stars are still above the 50 percent line in CF% and zone starts in all iterations. The number that jumps out in close situations since the start of the year is the PDO - a measly 93.1, with a shooting percentage of 5.7 and a save percentage of 0.873.
In total, the underlying possession trends point to two factors - luck and the failure to limit chances from the high-danger areas.
The two are likely intertwined to some extent, particularly the save percentage and the high-danger chance uptick for the Stars opponents, and the good news for the Stars is that some things will be self correcting. Even with the goalie struggles of last season, the Stars had a better team save percentage overall, and the team shooting percentage is far more likely to settle a closer to the nine range than six. That would have likely led to at least a couple more points in the past five games.
And as has been well documented, the team was playing tired, particularly once they hit the last three games of the 9-in-15 stretch. This is best reflected in the Corsi events per game, where their pace over the last five has them mid-pack rather than leading the way with a high-event style.
I think this is something fairly significant. The Stars are designed to be a team that overwhelms with the sheer pace of their play, that drives the play through transition and speed. They are much more effective playing that type of game than they are when the pace slows down, and that type of speed game demands a significant amount of energy from the team. When everyone is worn down and lacking the adrenaline of an event game like New Year's Eve (or, say, the playoffs), that style of play is hard to come by, and that often tips the scales in favor of the opponent.
Given all that, this five-day break between games comes at the ideal time for the Stars. The two days away from the rink with no practice provides the time to heal the bodies and refuel the tanks, and the three days of practice will allow the coaching staff to focus on the defensive (and possibly goaltending) fundamentals that slipped in the recent games.
There are things to work on, but not so much as to be overwhelming. There are good signs to point to, such as the likely bounce back in shooting percentage and save percentage, if the players simply stick with the game plan that has brought them this far. And there are still solid fundamentals, such as the overall shot attempts and zone starts advantage, upon which to repair some of the cracks.