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Looking For Trends in the Dallas Stars’ Game

If feels like the only consistent thing recently has been inconsistency, but is that what’s really going on?

NHL: Calgary Flames at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What’s that one word that fans of struggling teams in all sports ironically repeat almost every single day?

Consistency.

The Dallas Stars are searching for it right now and really they’ve been looking for it all season long. In 27 games, they’ve won two games in a row just once. If you recall, the 2009-10 Dallas Stars failed to win three games in a row over the course of an entire season and ended up finishing with 88 points and outside of the playoff bubble. Are this year’s Stars headed towards the same fate?

Luckily, the 2016-17 Stars have been trending in a better direction than the 2009-10 Dallas Stars were at this point in the season. Let’s take a look.

In terms of their even strength shot attempt differentials, the 2009-10 Dallas Stars were on a steady trip downwards at this time of the year. What about this season?

While it isn’t as pronounced as the 2009-10 trend downwards, this season’s iteration of the Stars is trending in the right direction as far as the territorial play is concerned.

This comparison is pretty consistent across several metrics including 5v5 scoring chance differentials and expected goal differentials. The 2009-10 Stars were on a sharp trend downwards while this season’s Stars are generally trending positively, although it is a slight positive.

Another thing to notice about these two charts is that word again, consistency. While Dallas has not been a good 5v5 team this year, they’ve had good stretches of play and have limited the peaks and valleys in regards to their shot metrics. Compare that to the 2009-10 season where you see their shot attempt differentials are all over the map and radically change from game to game.

While the results of the games are similar to the 2009-10 Dallas Stars in terms of building consistency, there aren’t many more similarities when looking at the two teams as a whole. The entire 2009-10 season was trending downwards in almost every key metric while this year’s team has been getting better (even if it doesn’t feel like it).

Are the Best Players Playing Like the Best Players?

Now that we’ve taken a brief look at the team trends this season, let’s take a closer look at some individual players. For this portion, I’m going to focus on Corsica’s “Expected Goals” statistic to measure the shot quality that players are generating/suppressing. If you are not familiar with expected goals, there is an excellent write-up on it here and I highly recommend it.

Let’s start with the captain, who has managed just one goal playing 5v5 hockey this so far this season.

We’ve talked about it all season long, something isn’t right with Jamie Benn. An injury is widely speculated but isn’t likely to be confirmed at all this season. He simply just doesn’t look like himself and it shows up in many of his numbers.

Benn has finished in the negative end of 5v5 expected goal differential in just two seasons in his career (Dallas missed the playoffs both times) and has never finished negative in terms of his expected goal differential relative to his teammates. That’s a wordy way of saying “Even when the team has been bad, the team is still better with him on the ice”.

The second part of the dynamic duo hasn’t been much better. Seguin has amassed quite a few helpers this season but his 5v5 goal scoring hasn’t been where it needs to be either. He has just three 5v5 goals on the season.

Seguin has finished in the red in expected goal differential just once in his career and that was his rookie season. That was also the only season he finished negative in that metric relative to the rest of his teammates and he has played on some outstanding teams in his career.

What about Jason Spezza? He’s had some injury concerns this season and missed a bit of time in the month of November. Like Seguin, he has only generated three 5v5 goals just a season removed from potting 20.

While Spezza is also trending downwards in this category, his is much less concerning than Benn or Seguin’s. He’s still barely below the team average in expected goal differential and considering his injury and his linemates for much of the season, that isn’t too shabby. He has a positive impact relative to the rest of the team on most nights he plays. While a slight downward trend is apparent in expected goals, Spezza is trending upwards in both shot attempt and unblocked shot attempt differentials.

Finally, let’s look at John Klingberg to round out what should be the top-four players on this Dallas Stars team.

Another top player, another lackluster result. Klingberg joins a good-sized list of Dallas Stars’ who just simply don’t look like their usual selves this season. He has looked out of sorts all year long and it really starts with his play in his own zone. I’m not necessarily talking about his defending, but his ability to execute clean breakouts has been troublesome throughout the early portions of this season.

For the Stars as a whole to accelerate their upward trend in shot and expected goal differentials, they need their best players to boost them forward. While it’s nice that players like Antoine Roussel, Radek Faksa, Brett Ritchie and Patrick Eaves are helping the upward trend and have played quite well, they simply don’t have the continued impact that a Benn or Seguin can have.

It’s been said a lot lately, but it bears repeating; Dallas’ best players need to be their best players once again.