On the Radar: Finishing Touch
Over the last week and a half the Dallas Stars have clobbered the opposition. Dating back to January 18 at Minnesota, you could make the argument that the Stars have played their best six-game stretch of the season. In one of those six games, they laid an egg and got beaten up in Nashville. But the other five games have looked about as lopsided in their favor as any games can look. And yet for all the dominance we’ve seen lately from the Stars, they are a mere 3-2-1 in that time. If you watched them play those half-dozen games, you would expect a much better record than that, but that’s what it’s been. Seven of a possible twelve points. That’s it.
The most recent game came on Monday night. After the Stars got through dominating the Colorado Avalanche for 55 minutes (they took the first five minutes off), posted a 44-21 shots advantage, and lost 4-3 in regulation, I along with everyone else leaving the AAC asked myself a simple question.
How did that happen?
I started to think about other losses like that for the Stars this season. There was a similar game in Colorado on October 15 where the Stars outshot the Avs 41-26, but lost 3-2. There was the November 21 game versus the New York Rangers where the Stars claimed a 43-27 shots advantage, but again lost 3-2. How about the game in early December in Toronto, where Dallas put up a season-high, 50 shots to the Leafs’ 24, but lost…wait for it…3-2.
All told there have been seven games this season where the Stars put up 40 or more shots, and Dallas hasn’t won a single one of them. They are 0-4-3. In said games, they have outshot their opponents a combined 314-196, and dominated the overwhelming majority of play, and they have exactly zero wins. So again, how did that happen?
Last week when the Stars were on a three-game tear and outscored their opponents a combined 14-1 in back-to-back-to-back wins, coaches and players talked about what they felt was the difference from early January. They said they were “burying their chances” and “putting teams away.” That was true. And indeed it had been a missing ingredient for much of the month. If the Stars were able to finish more chances against teams like the Red Wings, Islanders, and Rangers, their record would look much different right now.
But they didn’t. Nor did they on Monday. And nor did they on any of those other members of the 40-shot club. In those seven games and 314 shots, the Stars only scored 14 goals. That’s an average of about one goal per every 22 shots. In other words, they’re not even coming close to finishing with consistency.
Is the answer simply that the Stars are just not a very efficient team in converting their shots and chances? That would explain it. But according to the stats, that’s just not the case. Dallas ranks 13th in the league in shooting percentage at 8.91% - above the league average. They score about once for every 11 shots they take this season. The Stars also rank tied for 7th in the NHL in goals scored. That doesn’t sound like a team unable to close on opportunities.
Furthermore the Stars have reversed the role this season a time or two themselves. Like the game immediately before that Rangers game when the Stars won in Vancouver, despite being outshot 43-23. Or the game immediately before the Toronto game, where the Stars got outshot 50-18 in Chicago, but won 4-3. That was a pretty efficient evening, right? And since both of those games were right before their opposites, you can’t make the case that they were running cold or hot at that point of the season.
But if you think about the majority of losses this season, the Stars inability to close on opportunities seems among the biggest culprits of their defeats. So if their goals scored and season-long shooting percentage rank where they do, how is it that there are still so many times this year where it feels like the Stars are a team that cannot finish?
As it turns out the Stars are selectively efficient. In their wins this season, Dallas has scored 98 goals on 711 shots – a goal for every 7.25 shots. Meanwhile, in their losses, they have scored just 53 goals on 983 shots – a paltry average of 18.5 shots per goal. Essentially, the Stars are two and a half times more efficient when they win than when they lose.
The crazy part is that there’s really nothing they can do to increase their ability to convert a chance on one night versus another. It’s not as if Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn only try to pick corners sparingly. And it’s not like Antoine Roussel’s skates can only deflect a puck in on certain nights. Sometimes the puck bounces of a post and in. Other times it goes off the pipe and out. Desire, focus, coaching, and practice have very little to do with which way it goes on any particular occasion. Putting yourself in a position to succeed has a roadmap. Finishing, on the other hand, seems rather arbitrary.
The irony of it all is that the only thing that truly matters in a hockey game is who converted more chances. While playing well has everything to do with generating chances, it doesn’t necessarily equate at all to making them count. If the Stars can continue their recent run of play, they certainly put themselves in a good position to make a late season run.
But if the Stars are going to make a dash for a playoff spot, they need wins and not just well-played (or even dominating) games. We are in an age where advanced hockey stats are touted as a new way of looking at games and predicting outcomes. However, it appears that in the case of the Stars, their key to victory lies in the simplicity shooting percentage.
In other words, where the Stars will finish comes down to whether or not they can.
Dallas has three upcoming games in their final full week before the Olympic Break. Here are a few things to keep ‘On the Radar’ as you enjoy the games:
This week the Stars get their first look at the only Western Conference opponent they’ve yet to play this season – the Phoenix Coyotes. When they meet on Tuesday, it will be the first of two meetings separated by five days. With only 29 games remaining in the season, every game is important. However, games against the clubs closest to the Stars in the standings carry even more weight. Specifically, games against Phoenix, Minnesota, Vancouver, Nashville, and Winnipeg are the ones to keep an eye on. Starting this week, 8 of the Stars’ final 29 games come against those teams. Three will be against the Coyotes, including the regular season finale. A large part of the reason that the Yotes are four points up on Dallas in the standings is their ability to eek out points. Former Stars Coach and three-point game guru, Dave Tippett once again has his club amongst the leaders in overtime games. In late December, they played six consecutive overtime games. The Coyotes have gone to overtime 17 times, tied for the third most in the league, and their 10 OT/SO losses are the second most in the conference. History says that Phoenix will continue to squeeze out points over the final two months of the season. In the three games where the Stars go head-to-head with them, they have the ability to handle business in regulation by themselves. They cannot let opportunities like Tuesday pass them by.
The Goose is Loose
Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski took a while to get going offensively this year with just two goals and no assists through his first 14 games of the season. However, the sixth year defenseman is coming on strong as of late and has provided a big offensive contribution. Goligoski has points in four straight games, with seven assists during the span. He has multi-assist nights in three of those games and leads all Stars defensemen with 24 points this year, and is third overall on the team in assists. Goligoski currently ranks in the top-20 of NHL defensemen with 22 assists, and is on pace to threaten his career-high mark of 32 assists in a season. He is also far and away the Stars leader in ice time and matches up against the opposition’s top line in most games. Goligoski has played in all but one game this year and averages 24 minutes a night. Only one other Star averages over 20 minutes a game this season (Brenden Dillon, 21:29). The power play has begun clicking over the last few weeks, and offensive help from the blue line is a big reason why. Goligoski has been leading that charge, and could be pivotal in continuing the offense for Dallas.
The Stars power play is deservedly getting a lot of recognition lately. However, the lesser talked about half of their special teams play has also been dominant as of late. The Stars have killed 17 of their last 18 power plays against, dating back to January 16 vs. Boston. They had killed 17 in a row before a bad turnover led to a Colorado goal late in the second period on Monday. Dallas’ PK ranks near the middle of the pack this season at just under 81%. However, as games tighten up down the stretch and goals become increasingly more difficult to score, they will have to lean on their solid play as of late in that department. This week they will receive a strong test as they face three teams who have tremendous power play units. New Jersey ranks 7th in the league in road PP, while Anaheim and Phoenix rank 3rd and 6th, respectively at home.
On the Road Again
After Thursday the Stars will hit the road for a three-game road trip. It will be the first trip for Dallas in two weeks, and the Stars are hoping for a kinder journey than any they have had recently. The Stars play on the road was a strength early in the season, but they have struggled greatly over the last month and change. The Stars went the entire month of January without a road victory, going 0-4-1 in their five games outside of Big D. Their last road win came before Christmas on December 23 in Los Angeles. Dating back to December 5, the Stars have just two wins in their last 11 road games. Dallas is now under .500 on the road this season after starting the year 9-6. Beginning in February, 15 of their final 28 games of the season are away games. They need to rediscover ways to earn wins away from the AAC. It won’t be easy this week as the three-game trip comes against clubs who are a combined 55-13-8 in their home buildings.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.