Even though the Dallas Stars have improved in modest, painfully slow ways, the season still feels like a groundhog day away from the usual comedy of errors. It's hard to judge them collectively given their injuries, but one of the areas we can safely judge them in a vacuum is their power play.
Dallas' power play ranks 18th in the NHL. Last season, they were 4th in the league, boasting a unit not even the historically great Washington Capitals could beat.
What exactly has changed? Well here’s a list of Dallas' minute munching first unit: Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, Patrick Eaves, and Jason Spezza. Now here is a list of last season's minute munching first unit: Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, Patrick Eaves, and Jason Spezza.
Dallas is using the exact same number one unit this season as they did last season. What exactly is the problem?
For one, they're simply not getting as many shots through. Last year, the team's on ice average in shot attempts per 60 at 5 on 4 was 101.3. This season that average is 93.5. The amount of shots on goal is even more alarming. Last season, no one on the first PP unit ever dipped below 58 shots on goal per 60 minutes of play. This season, no one is above 51 shots on goal per 60 minutes.
Even worse, they’re getting plenty of chances. They are 3rd in the NHL in power play minutes allotted, yet they are 18th in shots on goal at 5 on 4 play.
Dallas uses the most common power play setup in the league; the 1-3-1. Judging by their shot locations, I’m not sure they’re making the best of use of said strategy:
Stars: Structure: not so much. The average shot location from every player is very central though. pic.twitter.com/tkCJebCGtN— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 22, 2016
Is this what good power plays should look like? Not if Tampa Bay’s 3rd ranked power play is any indication:
Tampa: Really carefully defined spots. That's your spot, that's where you go. pic.twitter.com/iBNPEDh0ZI— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 22, 2016
Just to repeat Micah’s observation, a good power play has identifiable roles. On Tampa’s plot chart, you can see who the point specialist is, who mans the right circle, who mans the left, and is used most in the slot.
Dallas, by contrast, looks like it’s just trying to create chaos, hoping the ad hoc strategy pays dividends. It hasn’t. I don’t know if the intended strategy is to create rebounds, but if it is, that has always seemed like a fool’s errand. Rebounds are inherently chaotic, after all. They have value, but that value is nominal. And Dallas’ lack of success speaks to this. They are top 10 in shot attempts on the power play, but 15th in unblocked shot attempts.
Another issue is this: a team’s power play shouldn’t live or die by just one unit. Tampa Bay’s Vladislav Namestikov, for example, who is featured on Micah’s chart, actually plays on their second unit with Jonathan Drouin and Anton Stralman. Dallas has Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Dan Hamhuis, and Jordie Benn on second unit duties. Last season Dallas’s power play struggled in January, and my theory was that their second unit couldn’t generate entries (relying more on dump ins), and thus couldn’t generate as many chances, which led to added pressure to the first unit. I believe a similar problem is brewing for Dallas.
Compounding these flaws in tactics and execution is something else I know fans experience head explosions over: shorthanded chances. And no, it’s not pretty. Their goals against is second worst in the league (with 6, second only to Philadelphia), and they’ve given up the second most shot attempts on the PP.
I don’t know what the silver lining is for Fraser and Ruff. Against Florida, the second unit (Shore with Sharp and Hudler) was lights out. Out of three attempted controlled zone entries, each was successful, and they generated 12 shot attempts compared to the first unit’s meager 4 (yes, four shot attempts that game for the first unit, although one led to a goal). Good sign or not, Dallas needs more than just signs to correct their power play. They need results.