Dallas Stars Penalty Kill: How Can It Be Improved?

The Dallas Stars penalty killing has been less successful than we would have hoped to start the season. Are there any trends we can see from the goals allowed on the man advantage so far?

Last season, the Dallas Stars had a basically average penalty kill that ranked 21st in the NHL at 81.4 percent. It was one thing we pinpointed as an area for improvement for the team to be able to take the next step forward.

So far this year, Dallas has allowed six power play goals on 25 opportunities. That's good for a 76% ptrcent penalty kill percentage comprised of a 78.6 percent kill at home (21st in NHL) and a 72.7 percent kill on the road (25th in NHL).

Definitely not the improvement we anticipated.

So what's gone wrong early in the season? Are there any trends that we can pick out? In order to answer that, we have to look at each power play goal allowed.

Game 1 - Chicago Blackhawks PPG scored by Patrick Sharp

The tale of the tape:

On Ice Dallas: Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt, Alex Goligoski, Brenden Dillon

In Penalty Box: Jordie Benn (Holding the stick)

How it happened: Off the draw, three Stars penalty killers get caught on the right side of the ice, leaving one man to cover the left side - the side Sharp is on. Off the face off, the puck goes to the right side, so Eakin goes that way and Garbutt to the middle. But the play rotates quickly across the top, and the forwards don't quite shift with it. Once Garbutt realizes both he and Eakin have the center point man covered, he shifts to cover the far side of the ice. But it's too late - Sharp has a shot available, uninhibited at Kari Lehtonen. The puck went in between Lehtonen and the pipe, and is one we generally expect to be saved more often than not.

Game 3 - Columbus Blue Jackets PPG scored by Ryan Johansen

The tale of the tape:

On Ice Dallas: Antoine Roussel, Vernon Fiddler, Alex Goligoski, Patrik Nemeth

In Penalty Box: Trevor Daley (Hooking)

How it happened: Fiddler is stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to keep an eye on the extra guy up top while someone else drives back door. The most dangerous guy is probably Johansen driving down, but the point shot also needs some respect. This is a well-designed play, similar to one the Stars have scored on a few times with Daley.

Game 4 - Pittsburgh Penguins PPG scored by Sidney Crosby

The tale of the tape:

On Ice Dallas: Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt, Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth

In Penalty Box: Brenden Dillon (Tripping)

How it happened: Jordie Benn tries to break up the cross-crease pass and instead scores on his own goaltender.

Game 4 - Pittsburgh Penguins PPG scored by Chris Kuntiz

The tale of the tape:

On Ice Dallas: Alex Goligoski, Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt, Trevor Daley

In Penalty Box: Vernon Fiddler (Hooking)

How it happened: Garbutt and Eakin drift towards the point man at the same time, leaving Goligoski and Daley to cover Hornqvist on the half-wall, who then drifts down to the net front and is replaced by Malkin, as well as covering Kunitz in the slot and Crosby over on the other half-wall. That's a lot of bodies for two guys to have to cover, with Eakin and Garbutt both coming out to challenge the point shot by Letang.

Game 6 - Philadelphia Flyers PPG scored by Andrew MacDonald

The tale of the tape:

On Ice Dallas: Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Shawn Horcoff, Jamie Benn

In Penalty Box: Jordie Benn (Interference)

How it happened: Jamie Benn leaves the shooting lane of MacDonald open, perhaps so that Kari Lehtonen can see the shot fully without obstruction. The shot goes right through Lehtonen. On most occasions, that one is generally stopped by the goaltender.

Game 6 - Philadelphia Flyers PPG scored by Claude Giroux

The tale of the tape:

On Ice Dallas: Cody Eakin, Alex Goligoski, Brenden Dillon

In Penalty Box: Trevor Daley (Hooking)

How it happened: Giroux has a clear lane on Lehtonen (which happens a lot on 4-on-3s), and shoots it five hole. This one would be one we would expect the goaltender to be able to make the save on nine times out of ten.

What can improve the penalty killing?

Dallas needs to take less penalties and cut down on the shots allowed.

Yes, obvious statement is obvious. Obviously, taking less penalties will help boost a terrible penalty kill. If you're not on the job, you can't be bad at it, after all. The thing is, the penalties that Dallas seems to be taking are the obstruction calls (hooking, tripping, interference, etc). That could indicate that the Stars are getting caught not moving their feet in their own end and are having to resort to using their sticks to keep scoring chances from occurring.

Also, Lehtonen has faced the third most shots so far on the penalty kill of all goaltenders in the league. Much like I pointed out last weekend when talking about Lehtonen's start to the season, averaging 30+ shots a game is going to catch up to you. When you combine many shots against and add in not having one of your guys in front of you, that's a recipe for not good things.

Last season, Lehtonen faced 295 total shots against on the power play in 65 games. He's faced 38 already through five games played. That is an unsustainable shot rate, so I would expect it to come down as the number of penalties called falls through the season's progression (as calls are usually more liberal at the beginning of the season).

Kari Lehtonen has to be better.

So far Lehtonen's save percentage on the penalty kill is well below his average in the last several seasons.

PP SV% Team PK% Team PK Ranking
2014-2015 0.842 76.0% 24
2013-2014 0.878 81.4% 21
2012-2013 0.879 81.0% 17
2011-2012 0.899 82.8% 13
2010-2011 0.861 80.1% 23

That's unlikely to continue, so I expect it to improve back towards his usual average. And as the team in front of him improves and cuts down on the shots against, his save percentage will also improve.

Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt should be on the penalty kill -- but maybe not together at the same time.

Two of the six power play goals against were due to Eakin and Garbutt ending up on the same coverage assignment on the penalty kill. These two seem to think the same and they're going to the same part of the ice. At even strength when they're on a line together, that is more easily covered for, but with a man off the ice, that becomes a lot more magnified. I'd like to see these two forwards on the penalty kill, as they do well much of the time, but together they seem to be a problem.

Or, if they're going to be on the ice together, they need to figure out their communication breakdowns and not take the same coverage assignment.