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Analytics Schmanalytics - Reading Early Season Tea-Leaves with the Dallas D

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What do the numbers say about the state of the Stars’ defense after three games?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-St. Louis Blues at Dallas Stars
So far Johns has been everything the Stars needed him to be, and more. Can it continue?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Full disclosure, three games isn’t much of a sample size. If it was, we’d be talking about Adam Cracknell: Leading Scorer rather than Adam Cracknell: Pleasant Surprise. There’s a lot of noise in an NHL game, it takes a couple for the meaningful bits of information to surface.

But that’s not going to stop us today!

After last night’s triumph, the Dallas Stars are 2-1 on the young season. If we’re being completely honest, it’s an uneven 2-1. Three games in and the Stars have been a little bit Jekyll and a little bit Hyde. There are a number of different contributing factors, but today I’m taking a quick look at the defense.

This is by no means comprehensive, but it’s going to be a storyline all season, so we might as well start our analytical engines now.

Dan Hamhuis

Makes Sense

Hamhuis is currently second on the Stars in ATOI (22:28) and shifts-per-game (28.7).

Worth Watching

Through three games, Hammer has played more on special teams than any other Stars defender (14:44 SH/PP TOI).

What Does it Mean

Coach Lindy Ruff has leaned on the free agent acquisition early and often. That part makes sense. What’s odd is giving nearly eight minutes (7:53) of power play time to a defender with a career high of 16 PPP (set in 2005-2006 no less). Perhaps this means the Stars are more committed than we think to a four forward look this season (Patrick Sharp has already spent time on the point). The Stars could also be waiting for one of the other defenders to win more time, or, it could simply be a score-effects problem.

Jamie Olekisak/Esa Lindell

Makes Sense

After sitting the first two games, both Lindell and Oleksiak tagged in against the Nashville Predators, but were used sparingly. Oleksiak skated 13:10 and Lindell played 13:44.

Worth Watching

Despite light usage, both defenders saw significant time on the penalty kill (1:47 for the Big Rig, 2:07 for Lindell). The pair also wasn’t as sheltered as you might expect. Both started just 36% of their shifts in the offensive zone (4 OZS vs 7 DZS).

What Does it Mean?

On the road, up a goal against a divisional rival is no time to worry about getting experience for the new guys. This is especially true for a team with legitimate post season aspirations. Still, the reality is that both are bubble players on this defense. You have to think they earned a little more time (and another start) with their efforts in Nashville. If not, I suppose fans get an answer about where each stands in the defensive pecking order.

John Klingberg

Makes Sense

Klingberg is averaging 3:22 per game on the power play. This is second only to Jason Spezza (3:26). Additionally, he has not yet been charged with an official giveaway.

Worth Watching

Klinger’s Corsi (or SAT% if you rock NHL’s Enhanced Stats) sits at 50.8% after two games. This is despite a near even split in zone usage (21 OZS vs 23 DZS). That’s good for 14th on the Stars and is behind all but Oleksiak, Jordie Benn, and Patrik Nemeth. Piling on, the slick Swede has produced a single assist so far.

What Does it Mean?

Nothing. Mostly. Klingberg’s long-time defensive partner is now in Arizona, and the team kicked off its year with a couple of stat-skewing results. So long as he continues to see time with offensive players (he will) and on special teams (ditto), the Stars should see his possession metrics begin to tick upwards. He’s wobbled before and subsequently righted himself. Give it another week or two. All will be well.

Jordie Benn

Makes Sense

After playing 64 games last season, the elder Benn has suited up in two of Dallas’ first three games this year. In those games he has averaged 14:00 of ice time versus a mark of 15:39 last season. He does lead the Stars’ backline in scoring, however, with a pair of assists.

Worth Watching

Historically a strong possession player, Jordie has started the season with a 44.6 CF%. That represents a 6.4% drop compared to his career average and a 9.2% decrease from the career-high he set in 2014-2015.

What Does it Mean?

The fact Jordie started the season on John Klingberg’s wing is weird, and his scratch against Nashville means the sample size here is even less relevant than with most of the rest of this list. Likely, Jordie is in the same position he’s been for the past few seasons: he’s a known quantity capable of stepping into a number of different roles along the Dallas backline. A flex guy, in other words.

Stephen Johns

Makes Sense

John’s seems to have stepped forward after a 17 game cameo at the end of last season. Through three games he’s averaging more overall ice time (19:04 vs 18:03) and is doing more during that time to push possession in the Stars’ favor (59 CF% vs 50 CF%). He also scored the first goal of Dallas’ season and leads the defense with seven hits.

Worth Watching

So far Johns is doing this damage despite a brutal OZS/DZS split. Only 19.4% of the 24-year old’s shifts have begun in the offensive zone. Only his partner, Johnny Oduya sees less of the offensive zone (81.8% DZS vs 80.6% DZS).

What Does it Mean?

It means that Johns has arrived as a crucial part of the Dallas backline. At least so far. Against Nashville, Johns topped 20 minutes (20:57) including 2:18 on the penalty kill. If his performances to-date are in any way projectable, the Stars might have stumbled upon a gem of a blueliner. If this is even close to normal, the Stars suddenly have two settled defensive pairs and plenty of room to rotate prospects.

Johnny Oduya

Makes Sense

The other half of what appears to be Dallas’ defensive pairing, Oduya is starting a team-high 81.8% of his shifts in the defensive zone. His 58.6 CF% is healthy, and he’s chipped in an assist along the way.

Worth Watching

Oduya is averaging 19:03 per game and 3:12 short handed. Alongside Stephen Johns, Oduya is a major part of Dallas’ defensive identity.

What Does it Mean?

The 35-year old has so-far been relied upon to cover some of the cracks created by a series of offseason departures (Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, and Kris Russell). He has also been entrusted with the care and nurturing of young Stephen Johns. That’s a lot, but it’s also why rising teams like Dallas raid championship squads for resources. The outright reliance on Johns/Oduya will likely decrease a little, but he’s a bedrock guy from here on out.

Patrik Nemeth

Makes Sense

After the loss in Colorado, Nemeth made way in the lineup for Jamie Oleksiak and Esa Lindell. Before that, he had averaged 18:05 in ice time without a significant offensive/defensive lean (55.6% DZS)

Worth Watching

In his two games, Nemeth’s 40.6 CF% was the worst among all Stars players. In those two games he did not record a shot on goal.

What Does it Mean?

Nemeth is another one of the Stars’ bubble defenders. A strong finish to training camp helped, as did a season-opening victory, but when the Colorado collapse dictated someone make way, his name was first on the list. Until something gives (injury, trade, or serious performance jump) that will likely be a familiar season-long theme. Nemeth will get other chances to impress, probably.

(Stats courtesy of NHL.com and Hockey Reference)