Dallas Should Trust Their Rookies on the Penalty Kill, and Ruff's Aggressive Philosophy
The Dallas Stars Penalty Killing unit has gone from bottom 10 to top 10 in a short amount of time. What they're doing, playing aggressive and using young legs, will be critical to their special teams success in the playoffs.
From October 8th until the new year, the Dallas Stars Penalty Killing squad was 12th in the league. Then the new year hangover kicked in, and from the midnight cosmopolitans until March 15th, they were 21st in the league.
They're now 10th in the league, which is good for 7th among all playoff teams.
I've been studying the Penalty Kill off and on throughout the season. My initial thoughts, when they were absolutely broken during the month of January, was that they didn't really have the personnel for a truly efficient PK unit. I went in looking to blame Lindy Ruff. After all, special teams is largely the function of schemes, set plays, and entry types. This is coaching scripture. But I left feeling like Ruff had been handed the keys to a '69 Chevelle for a Konigstiger.
That was, in my estimation at the time, a Jim Nill problem. After all, Nill is responsible for clearing roster space in order to activate players from Cedar Park, or to bring in new ones.
I rarely get the opportunity to pretend to know what i'm talking about, so excuse me for boasting, but that estimation has proven accurate. I like looking at Fenwick (shots minus blocked shots to approximate a scoring chance rather than the sheer volume of shots like Corsi) on the PK because I think it filters the noise a little. Power Plays are designed to be a two minute scoring chance, so defending against it is the same as defending against a scoring chance. Who's preventing chances?
The new kids on the block. Radek Faksa and Kris Russell are doing a much better job on the PK than Dallas' regulars like Cody Eakin and Johnny Oduya. Faksa's impact shouldn't be understated. His xGA, expected goals against when taking into account how many shots against and what kind of shots against, is far and away the best on the team when shorthanded.
As a bonus, he has the best faceoff win percentage of anyone on the PK. Lock this kid down, Jim.
It helps that Ruff and Co. have adopted a useful strategy on the PK: don't just shoot to kill at even strength. Shoot to kill all the time.
As I talked about the other day when looking at Dallas' Power Play, there's now data on PK aggressiveness, which is to say, how often a team tries to counterattack and enter the opponent's zone with possession. When Matt Cane went digging for zone entry data, the year Ruff took over, Dallas sat 7th in trying to enter the opponent's zone with possession on the PK.
The first column represents a percentage measuring "aggressiveness" by calculating successful PK entries for versus failed PK entries. The 2nd column stands for PK Goals for per 60, the 3rd column for PK Goals against per 60, and the third is the differential. Even if this is mental goulash for your brain, you'll notice that nothing dramatic is happening in the differential column, which is to say, there's not much risk in trying to enter the opponent's zone.
The Dallas Stars have scored the second most goals for a team this past decade for a reason: they generate offense wherever they can.
Amusingly, not much has changed. A lot of those teams have a high number of scoring chances for on the PK this season. Out of all the playoff teams who try to counter on the PK, Dallas trails only the Islanders, and the Ducks per War on Ice.
The bad news is that Minnesota is stingy on the PK. They sit 6th in the league for total scoring chances against on the PK.
The Dallas Stars are putting some faith into their young kids. Between Mattias Janmark, Radek Faksa, and likely Stephen Johns (who only has 5 minutes of PK time thus far), this is a lot of responsibility for players so young. But they can't establish faith in the coaching staff without being given the opportunity to justify such faith in the first place.