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Dallas Penalty Killers Slowly Going From Zeroes to Heroes in 2016 Thanks to March Madness

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The Dallas Stars have the best Penalty Killing unit in March. Surely that's a typo? Not quite. While small sample sizes should be taken with a grain of salt, there are some encouraging signs when looking at the data.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When we last left our heroes on the Penalty Kill, Dallas was having all sorts of problems. The shot attempts were increasing, and so were the high danger scoring area chances.

My own personal opinion is that they didn't have the personnel to play a Wedge defense on the PK properly. Granted, they've taken advantage of the PK formation in shorthanded goals where they rank in the top 5. But that's probably not the ideal philosophy, to torture the obvious.

After being ranked 24th in the league at the end of January, Dallas is now tied for 16th with LA and Edmonton. They've also killed 17 of their last 17 penalties, which is good for 1st for the month of March. What kind of sorcery is this?

The first thing I noticed a few games back is how they shift formations. Once Jamie Oleksiak, Stephen Johns, Patrik Nemeth, and Kris Russell entered the fray, Ruff seemed to favor a diamond formation; it's a strategy that kind of concedes the blueline (in any PK, you have to concede ground somewhere). It's asset is that it cracks down on rebounds, and protects the slot.

Why didn't they do this earlier? Simple: they've got a bigger group right now. As you can see in this crude, Southpark looking chart, scoring chance events for and against per 60, and corsi events for and against per 60 have gone down, making Dallas' save percentage less erratic (I included faceoff percentage because I'm bad at this, and like more layers on my puck cake).

PK Stuff

The other thing I noticed against Chicago in particular, is how well they were attacking the Hawks' entries. Chicago is right there with Washington as the best Power Play team in the league. They do it by not dumping the puck in like Dallas' second unit is always doing. Preventing entries is more critical than PK formations because once the Power Play enters the zone with possession, a shot is likely getting through. Arik Parnass put together some numbers on the type of Power Play entries most likely to result in shots.

Dallas was attacking the puck carrier hard, but they were also much better at anticipating who the puck carrier would be.

To go back to my point about Dallas' problem with not having the right personnel, we need to talk about Kevin...'s replacement. Mr. Kris Russell. I can't imagine ever calling that trade a home run. But Nill and Ruff clearly saw something those of us in the histolamb crowd missed.

For one, Russell is a positive possession player for Dallas thus far, averaging a 52 Percent shot differential at 5 on 5 when score adjusted. That's a massive difference from the 44 Percent in Calgary.

In addition, he's helped boost Dallas' PK. His Fenwick Against Per 60 while shorthanded ranks 3rd on Dallas' squad of shorthanded salvagers (especially amusing since Fenwick tabs shot attempts but not blocked shot attempts, which is the hobby everyone assumed he would continue taking up when he was signed). Number one that list? Radek Faksa, who is also now becoming a mainstay on Dallas' PK.

Russell's GA60 RelTM*, which stands for 'Goals scored against team while player is on the ice per 60 minutes of ice time relative to team mates', while shorthanded is also shockingly good: 2nd on the team. Once again, who does he trail? Radek Faksa.

So it would seem, at least for now, that with different personnel have come different results. Whether or not Dallas can maintain this pace is anyone's guess. But it's a necessary start if they want to go far in the playoffs.

*If you're still not quite sure what this "Rel" stuff is, here's an excellent explanation.