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The Stars Have the League’s Most Lethal Power Play but There’s a Catch

Dallas has the NHL’s top power play in literally decades. What’s there to be sad about?

Dallas Stars v Nashville Predators Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

When Ken Hitchcock was hired by Jim Nill, one of the things he was brought in to fix was the Ruff-era penalty kill (bad in honestly epic ways), and the Ruff-era power play, which felt perfunctory despite its proficient lineup.

He’s always coached above average special teams, and thankfully for Stars fans (with the help of Stu Barnes), he’s making good on that promise.

So far everything about Hitchcock’s power play passes the smell test. With Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, John Klingberg, and Devin Shore leading the way, the top unit has created a pattern of hive mind efficiency. And not just a metaphorical pattern.

But a literal one, thanks to Mr. Ineffective Math himself.

Dallas just can’t be stopped in the slot.

Having Seguin and Radulov near the edge of the circles for potential one timers has been a boon, in addition to something analytics have since discovered about the effectiveness of behind the net playmaking (compliments of Ryan Stimson’s passing project data), which Dallas has adopted (not saying the two are connected, or that Stimson beat the NHL to the insight punch).

As such, they are shooting at an unheard of 30 percent (!). That’s nearly double the league average (17 percent). The Stars are in, as the kids say, beastmode.

So what’s the catch?

In a narrative you’re already familiar with, the catch is the proportion to how much the PP is driving their success - 52 percent of Dallas’ goals are power play goals. Now, the PP isn’t going anywhere, so what’s wrong with that picture?

“Regression” is not the point. Although it’s highly unlikely Dallas’ shooting percentage on the man advantage will stay that high, 13 teams in the last 20 years have managed to shoot at or above 25 percent for a full season - the highest being the Calgary Flames during in the 1987-1988 season (at 28 percent). If a team could manage the distinction of being the worst PK team in 20 years, I don’t see why the same team couldn’t manage the distinction of being the best PP team in 20 years.

For one, no matter how great Dallas’ power play is, they’re just 20th in man advantage time on ice, which explains why their goals for for on the man advantage is not as high as you’d expect. In addition, their strength of schedule is worth noting. They’ve played just two teams with top ten PK units (Vancouver, and Detroit).

Dallas’ even strength numbers matter precisely because it’s such a stark contrast to their PP efficiency. Per Corsica, the Stars are 26th in goals for at even strength, and 28th in goals for per hour.

This is why results aren’t the only thing that matters when judged as a reflection of efficiency (unless it’s winning the Stanley Cup, of course). Fantasy scenario: let’s say Dallas’ power play doesn’t score a goal for two games. That’s not a good result. But is it a bad pattern? The pattern suggests you stick with the same players. But the results (no goals) suggest otherwise. Is the answer in this scenario to replace Radulov with Brett Ritchie? If Ritchie scored a goal, would keeping him there in place of Radulov on the first unit be justified? Or would the team be better off trusting the patterns? If it snows in Texas, I doubt anyone’s first instinct is to buy more caps, coats, and boots than shirts, shorts, and sandals for the rest of the year.

Dallas is struggling at even strength, as we’ve been told, shown, and watched with our own two eyes.

They’re fortunate to have a power play that has shown a pattern of efficiency. They have not, however, shown a pattern of efficiency at even strength. Will they adjust to generate new patterns, or will they stay satisfied by results that simply have yet to bite them in the rear?