By the Numbers: Where the Dallas Stars Sit Compared to Last All-Star Break
A deeper dive into the numbers reveals two areas making the key difference for Dallas this season - power play efficiency and goaltending.
With a week off and the Dallas Stars offensive wunderkinds heading to Nashville for the All-Star game, it's the opportune moment to reflect on exactly how different this season has been from the last one.
Any Stars fan can tell you that 2014-15 was the ulcer-inducing type of frustrating, where so much good was undone by a few glaring holes. Everything seems to be different this time, even with the recent slide, and the Stars are sitting comfortably near the top of the conference.
So how different are things, really, from where the team on this date last season? Let's start with the overall look, the big numbers that matter most at the end of the season:
This is the most important chart and the one that doubtless makes Stars fans the most happy. Almost everything in the results is different and better. Even scaling last season's team up to 50 games doesn't put them anywhere near what this team is doing so far. They have as many wins over Central Division teams as they have from all of last season, and they are already two home wins better than their 17-16-8 final from 2014-15.
The goals against being well down is the biggest key from a tactics point, so let's try to see how the Stars are going that. The fancy stat numbers at even strength start an interesting comparison:
What this chart shows is the Stars are just a little better at even strength in terms of the possession game, and theoretically not that much more "lucky" when it gets right now do it. The zone starts, all-attempts Corsi and scoring chance percentage have all ticked up, but not by a lot.
This matches the eye test from last season. The Stars played a lot of games where they were right in it and just couldn't come back with two points. One of the biggest reasons for that, obviously, was team defense, but that hasn't changed that significantly - it's gotten slightly better in most categories, but it's not the sea change.
So let's look at the most obvious category of change - the "luck" factors, most notably the goaltending.
Goaltending is a wonderful thing.
A fair number of the goal differential swing came on the penalty kill (more on that below), and a whole bunch game in the now-defunct 4-on-4 overtime, but a 10-goal swing that gets bigger when you consider the games played difference is nothing to sneeze at. The Stars are spending a whole lot of money to get pretty average goaltending, at least by the numbers, but it has paid off for them in a meaningful difference in results.
The shooting percentage is interesting to not as well. Despite the extremely prolific offense, the Stars are actually a little less goal-happy at even strength than they were last year. Some of that has to be attributed to score effects - they aren't getting horribly behind early in games too often, and therefore they're not trying to score six goals to come back. But it also indicates some room to grow offensively, which has to be a scary thought for their opponents.
So let's look at some of the special teams' splits (of note, the All-Star break came after game 46 for Dallas last year, so there is one fewer game in these numbers than above for 2014-15):
The biggest difference here is discipline - the Stars are giving up 0.5 fewer power plays per game (though some of that is also attributable to the overall drop in penalties league wide). They are a tick more efficient, despite the slight uptick in high-danger scoring chances against. It's not a hugely significant leap - it means opponents are getting one more high-danger scoring chance every 17 power plays or so.
Of course, there is plenty of room for improvement both this year and last. The same could be said about the power play last season, and let's see how that's turned out:
What a difference a little uptick in shooting percentage can make.
The Stars biggest difference this season by far is the power play, which has been trucking along even with its recent stumble. The standouts here are the eight more goals in half-a-PP less per game than last year, a conversion rate more than six percentage points higher and the uptick in shots from the point.
That's led to a much more feared unit overall despite being on the power play much less.
The takeaway from looking at the numbers is interesting. Outside of goaltending and the power play, this year's Stars is not all that materially different from last year's version. That's not a surprise - the feeling among most Stars fans last year was the team was not nearly as bad as their record, as frustrating as that record was.
But goaltending is hockey voodoo. You need at least a baseline level of it to be at all successful, and thanks to a large cap investment, the Stars have that again this season. It's taken them from a struggling group to one of the top teams in the Central.