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The Dallas Stars PK Problems in Three Easy Gifs

You don’t need fancy stats to understand why the Dallas Stars have an awful PK. Just check out these gifs.

NHL: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues
A nice symbolic gesture of how opponents treat Dallas’ PK
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-2017 Dallas Stars have 99 problems and the PK is (definitely) one. Right now they’re 28th in the league. Which is bad, of course.

Especially on the road, where they’re getting romper stomped. How badly? Well, they’ve allowed 13 goals on the PK on the road. Good for dead last.

Anything else before we get to the how? Dallas’ save percentage shorthanded is 25th at .858. Expected goals against, which weighs different shot types to approximate quality (tallying various types within its complicated model, such as shot distance, shot angles, rebounds, on the rush, and strength state), is also “good” for 30th.

The why is pretty straight forward in my view. Last season, the top four PK soldiers with the most minutes were Johnny Oduya, Alex Goligoski, Vernon Fiddler, and Jason Demers. The one guy on that list who still plays for Dallas isn’t even on the current roster thanks to injuries.

And that leaves us to the how.

Last season I did a sort of-primer on PK strategies. I’d recommend giving it a look if you haven’t. In part because if you’re not familiar with the work of guys like Arik Parnass, then you should correct it if you want to better understand what he calls the forgotten 20% (20 percent comes from the average amount special teams makes up for any one game).

Just to rehash a few points. Dallas plays what has become the most popular shorthanded strategy and formation. Which is the wedge (or triangle + 1), wherein two defensemen and a forward play a diamond formation down low while a high forward tries to pressure the point and/or disrupt passing lanes. It’s generally considered an aggressive strategy, but a necessary one to combat the efficiency of the 1-3-1 Power Play formation.

I manually tracked the PK for the last three games, thinking I’d find something important with respect to zone entries, and shots off dump ins versus shots off carry ins, et cetera. Separating these stats and categorizing them in accordance with the respective PK units would surely be valuable, I figured.

First, I’ll continue tracking data for special teams as the season progresses. But right now I’d argue that none of it mattered. There was one constant from unit to unit: the team can’t defend the weak side to save its life.

Over the last several games it’s the same bad habit that keeps creeping up. Ruff has used a goulashy set of units thus far: a consequence of the injuries. Here’s one of them: Jamie Oleksiak with Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, and Esa Lindell. And here they are in action.

In a narrative I’ll keep going back to, everyone treats the strong side like they’re struggling to decide between cutting the blue wire, or the red.

Cody Eakin is the +1 in the formation, presumably pressuring the point. He’s not, but that’s not the biggest issue. Benn and Oleksiak’s positioning is. Not only are they too close to each other, but Oleksiak is using his stick to defend the wrong passing lane. The path to Nyquist on the outside is an easy route. But it becomes a full blown disaster thanks to Dallas’ inattention to the weak side with Dylan Larkin posted on the right circle. The only reason this doesn’t become a goal is because Kari Lehtonen makes an excellent pad save.

Against Pittsburgh, this time it was Niemi Dallas would leave all alone in a Rancor dungeon.

Radek Faksa is the +1 in the wedge formation this time. As you can see, he does a good job of pressuring the point right away. But Roussel decides to rush forward next to Oleksiak leaving Evgeni Malkin wide open on the weak side. ‘Wide open’ isn’t even a pair of words that do that gaffe justice. Mastodonic mental flatulence, Razor might say.

One more for good measure.

This is really just a blown entry. Korpikoski is positioned too high off the face off. But everything spirals out of control when he and Oleksiak bite too hard on the strong side. St. Louis ends up finding the puck out of the scrum when the goalie can’t control the rebound, and they score.

My theory is that much of this is related to the roster fluctuation, and a lack of a defined unit. St. Louis for example (ranked 2nd in the league), has Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester logging the toughest minutes on the PK, closing in on 80 minutes of TOI thus far. Carolina, who ranks 1st, has Jacob Slavin and Ron Hainsey leading the way.

Nobody on Dallas’ roster has cracked the 60 minute mark. The minutes are fairly evenly divided as well (Faksa, Jordie, Oduya, and Hamhuis make up the PK leaders). If St. Louis, Carolina, and Boston (the three best PK units in the NHL) are any indication, this isn’t necessarily a positive. All of them have core units that eat up the bulk of the PK time.

Dallas is as healthy as they’re gonna be at this point. If they find their way out of this foxhole, fixing the PK will be a necessary start.