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Analyzing a Stars Penalty Kill That is Officially the NHL’s Worst in 20 Years

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The Dallas Stars officially own the worst penalty kill in 20 years. How has it all gone wrong?

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Awhile back I called Dallas’ penalty kill one of the worst PK units in history. That turned out to be false, but for NHL reasons. It turns out, the NHL isn’t interested in numbers, and doesn’t list any real stats before 1987. Every PK unit is given a 100 percent kill rate, which we know is false. Gary Bettman doesn’t believe fans care about salaries. Perhaps he believes sports fans are arithmophobic in general.

So with the caveat in mind that Dallas is not officially one of the worst PK teams in hockey history, perhaps you’ll rest easy knowing they are merely the 5th worst PK team in in 30 years, and the actual worst in the last 20.

Congratulations Dallas, you’re welcome to collect your Razzie award at any time. Baby Stars, you’re welcome to accept the award in Dallas’ honor since you’re not too hot either.

Despite the countless lazy articles you may have read from The Score about Dallas’ goaltending, Kari is top 10 at even strength, and Antti Niemi is pretty much league average. They don’t have a good all situation save percentage, on the other hand. In fact...

It’s dead last.

Dallas had goaltending that was statistically worse last season, yet their collective save percentage ranked 17th. Perhaps this helps clarify the chicken or egg dilemma when it comes to what is sinking the shorthanded unit; bad goaltending or bad systems/execution.

The last time I wrote about Dallas’ penalty kill, I decided to let three gifs tell the story. Dallas has been routinely awful at picking up weakside coverage. Rarely do you even see players put sticks in lanes, which is largely a byproduct of overpursuit (the one thing Dallas excels at when shorthanded).

Despite being a part of history for all the wrong reasons, Dallas is not last in a number of shorthanded categories.

Per Corsica Hockey, Dallas is only bad (20th) in raw shot attempts against.

They’re only a little worse than bad (21st) in raw unblocked shot attempts against.

They are a surprisingly just lurking beneath mediocre (18th) in raw scoring chances against.

They are mathematically disastrous (27th) in expected goals against.

Dallas’ netminding duo are in the bottom 10 of 43 goalies with at least a thousand minutes of ice time who face the highest rate of shot attempts per hour when shorthanded. Of those 43 goalies, Niemi is 38th in save perentage, while Kari is 13th. Niemi faces more shots, however.

In other words, whatever schemes and systems Lindy Ruff and James Patrick have helped construct, it’s only really awful instead of galactically awful.

Part of this is due to the roster. Last season Dallas had a stone set unit of Johnny Oduya, Alex Goligoski, Vernon Fiddler, and Jamie Benn that led the way in ice time.

This season, Dallas has led with Dan Hamhuis, Radek Faksa, Esa Lindell, and Antoine Roussel. Though Ruff and Patrick have been tasked with making a dramatic adjustment, these adjustments have failed all the same.

Just look at the top 7 shorthanded players in unblocked attempts per hour against (FA60) this season versus last season.

That’s a dramatic difference. Johns would have ranked 4th on last season’s PK units, and the defensemen were a lot more efficient last year to boot.

I’m not too comfortable giving the goaltenders a pass. The netminder is not a silent partner or passive observer. Just as penalty killers misread plays, or lack judgment, so does it go with the team’s most important penalty killer; its goaltender. Having said that, it’d be silly to place the blame solely on them.

After all, you don’t become the worst penalty killing team in 20 years unless everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. Even more difficult is finding a solution. If the roster is a problem, the goaltenders are a problem, and the coaching is a problem, then Nill has to prioritize which he can afford to fix first in the offseason.