Stars Power Play Having Trouble Anticipating Penalty Kill Aggressiveness: Tape to Tape
The Dallas Stars will be facing off against the Minnesota Wild in round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They may want to get their act together when it comes to their Power Play, which while still potent, has given up the most shorthanded goals of any NHL team in the league.
Dallas may be in great company against the Central elite, like Chicago and St. Louis in the "woohoo playoffs!!" category. But they're in awful company, right next to Arizona, Montreal, and Colorado in the "allows shorthanded goals" category. Last time I broke down Dallas' Power Play, their issues were lack of setup on the first unit, too many dump ins by the second unit that burn precious clock time on the PP (therefore minimizing the efficiency of the first unit), and now, allowing too many shorthanded goals.
Special teams may not be as important in the playoffs as even strength play, but 'less important' is not synonymous with 'unimportant'. The Dallas Stars have given up the most shorthanded goals of any Power Play unit in the league, and by a wide margin. How many? The official tally is 15 shorthanded goals against. The league average for shorthanded goals against this season is 6.3. Houston, we have an unbelievably thorough problem.
High Danger Scoring Chances Against Affecting Save Percentage
When you look at the now defunct War on Ice (Rest in Peace you pocket protector paladins!), team comparisons do not look good for high danger chances against for the Dallas Stars. They're 28th in the league in HSCA on the Power Play: total tally is 33, right next to Philadelphia, Colorado, and Arizona.
The good news is that a lot of good teams allow chances against on the PP. The Blues and Penguins are up there as well. The bad news is that other teams can mask these deficiencies with timely goaltending.
Dallas hasn't been able to do that. Goalie save percentages tend to dip when on the man advantage. This, as has been documented, is largely a function of the new wave of Power Playing in which teams adopt the 4 forward, 1 defensemen setup. Save percentages go from 92.5 Percent to 89.5 when playing four forwards up a man versus three.
By contrast, Dallas is well below that average. Kari Lehtonen posts a Sv% of 86.6 when on the Power Play. Antti Niemi is even lower. Are your eyes closed? Ok good. Niemi's Sv% is 67.7 on the man advantage. Both have played over 200 minutes of Power Play time, so this isn't exactly a small sample size. They've also roughly split the amount of high danger chances against. Niemi has allowed 10 shorthanded goals coming from HSCA, stopping 7.
This dramatic drop off helps explain why Niemi's save percentage is close to Kari's despite the far better even strength score adjusted numbers (92.3 Percent to Kari's 90.9). The other startling number is something the pocket protector paladins over at Corsica Hockey call RSA (rush shots against), defined as "any shot taken within four seconds of uninterrupted game time of any event occurring in the defensive zone OR within four seconds of uninterrupted game time of any giveaway or takeaway".
Niemi has faced 12 rush shots against on the Power Play, which is 2nd most in the league. Compare that to Kari's 5 RSA, and it becomes clear that Niemi is really getting a workout on the PP.
Problems Anticipating Aggressive PK Units
In a league that is starved for offense, it pays to take advantage of generating some whenever you can. And that's what some teams are doing. Matt Cane over at Hockey-Graphs, mining from Corey Sznajder's zone entry data from the 2013-2014 season, took a look at how often teams on the PK exited their own zone with the intention of entering the opponent's zone with possession.
The small sample size verdict? Counterattacking on the PK yields very little risk statistically speaking, and so at least some teams are doing so with impunity. This has the vague odor of a trend, but I'm certainly not the man to say. What is interesting is that Winnipeg was 2nd in the league that season and are 1st in the NHL this season at generating high danger chances on the PK.
Dallas didn't get that memo this season. In their February 23rd game against the Winnipeg Jets, Blake Wheeler and Co. roasted them. Here's how:
This is Dallas' goulash unit at work. That's Mattias Janmark and Alex Goligoski backing up against Joel Armia and Dustin Byfuglien on his right. The Star players next to the ref backchecking is Valeri Nichushkin. So far, so gah!
Janmark is doing his job, attacking the puck carrier, so have a cookie young padawan. Goligoski is part of the problem but not the whole problem. He begins to drift toward Byfuglien, which is sort of okay. You're up a man, so double coverage in your own zone is fine, depending on your approach. Goose chooses the wrong approach, passively poke checking Big Buf while at a crawl.
His gap is fine, but the speed he adopts to get get there is what makes this a blown play. Nuke drifts way too far from Armia. That's also sort of okay because Power Play units don't anticipate this kind of aggression. Problem is, you already know the guy is sniffing around like Dick Tracy in your own backyard. Ales Hemsky is the guy that should be covering Blake Wheeler who absolutely blazes into the zone. Part of this is just smart and fast play by Wheeler. As you can see, he's not even in the first pic. But you'd like to see better communication.
Some individuals are certainly more troubling than others. John Klingberg, for example, has a goals against per 60 rate of 2.89. Meanwhile, Jason Demers and Patrick Sharp are rarely on the ice for goals against (0.59 and 1.45, respectively) when on the PP.
But this isn't to single out Klingberg or praise Demers. The problem is not on any one individual so much as it is the sum of their preparation. No one player seems prepared to have to defend on the PP, so each small mistake adds up to the ultimate one. A lot of the more aggressive teams on the PK (looking at their scoring chances for on the PP this season) scored on Dallas shorthanded, so there's very little excuse.
However, they're also one of the most successful teams on the PP. That's the good news. They were 30.7 Percent against Minnesota, which is especially relevant. And the Wild rank 27th in high danger chances for on the PK, meaning they tend to be conservative. However, that's all the more reason for them to be aggressive against Dallas. And all the more reason for Dallas to be prepared. Three games against the Wild were decided in Overtime. You better believe that shorthanded goal against will be a difference maker.