Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Bag of Pucks - May 7

If there is one thing clear about the NHL Playoffs, it is that it is riveting and addicting in short order.  If there is another thing clear about the NHL Playoffs, it is that if your team is not in it, it is just not the same.

I can remember an actual time around here where the playoffs were taken for granted.  The Stars entered every season guaranteed that they were going to the post-season, the question from October on was simply what seed were they going to be?  Would they get home ice in the first 2 rounds or all the way throughout the playoffs?  Was there an easier road with match-ups, or do we just let the chips fall where they may?

Having worked in sports radio in Dallas-Fort Worth since 1998, I can honestly tell you that I remember in our daily show meetings that there were times after a playoff game that we had better things to do then break down "just a 1st round game" the next day.  Not proud of it, but as goofy as it seems now, hosting a Round 1 playoff game against Edmonton back in the day was not treated always as a big event.  It was a routine event that was treated slightly more importantly than the regular season.  It was going to happen and the Stars were going to win.

Wake me up when things get good in Round 2, was the attitude that seemed to exist in this city a 10-15 years back.

Well, we have learned.  We have been served our helping of humble pie and then some.  We have promised that we will never take a playoff berth for granted.  What silly, entitled, and spoiled fans we may have become.  And now, we beg for mercy and a chance to play again in the greatest tournament in sports.

Of course, that will have to wait until at least next year.  And for now, we are left to sift through the rubble of what remains of a 5th successive season that ended short of the mark.

Before we close the book on 2012-13, which was actually only 2013, we should make sure we know where this team sits in some important statistics that have put them where they are.  Some of this has been touched on in previous entries, but it doesn't hurt to throw it all in together now that we can see the season as a whole:

Goals Per Game - Starting with '08, the last time the Stars were in the playoffs.


Goals Against Per Game


And obviously, in a game like hockey, if the number up top (Goals for) is smaller than the corresponding number below it (Goals against), then your team is struggling to win.  And, this is the 5th season in a row that the issue has been as obvious as the sunrise.

But, let's dig deeper.

Shot Differential +/-


There is one major issue with the stat above, and that is that despite the numbers getting worse almost every year, we also have to deal with that small detail of shots per game as this last year was merely 48 games and the other seasons were 82.  Gulp.  Let's look at it by shots per game.

Shot Differential Per Game:


Oh boy.  That one smarts.  We were under the impression that the 2013 team was better than the 2012 version.  I guess this sets that one back a bit, doesn't it?  If no metric in hockey correlates with winning like shot differential (actually shots attempted rather than shots on goal is the most ideal) then we have issues and they are getting worse.

So, why are they losing the shot differential?  Are they shooting less or conceding more?  Both.

Shots For Per Game:


Interesting to see that the offensive output this season was very low, despite more power plays, but on par with the numbers from the 2008 team that we all yearn for.  The big drop has been on the other end.

Shots Against Per Game:


This is where we come back to the idea that the defense corps have never been properly replenished with quality since the good old days.  This isn't goaltending.  This is the fact that there is too much rubber being shot at Dallas nets.  And it has been consistently bad since Mr Zubov left with Mr Boucher and Mr Norstrom back after the 2008 run.

Even Strength Goal Differential:


This is another one that correlates to winning quite a bit.  Are you the better team when the game is a 5-on-5 game and we leave special teams out of it?  This was the calling card of the 2012 team, and that is why the theory was that if you improved the power play, you would get into the playoffs.  Well, that worked, but even strength fell off considerably.  Let's look at the Power Play.

Power Play Conversion %:


So, they got the PP back to a reasonable spot, where they ranked 18th in the NHL as opposed to 30th, but they lost their gains at equal strength.  But, percentages are only half the battle.  What about opportunities?  If you are never on the job, your percentages don't matter much.

Power Play Opportunities per game:


That is interesting.  It was going down every year, and this season, the Stars drew far more power plays than in 2012.  However, that number is still the 5th best out of 6 years.  Power Plays increased as did the conversion rate, but it was not enough to overcome the shot differentials nor the equal strength issues.

Power Play Opportunities Against per game:


Again, this game is way easier if you are on the job more than you are trying to kill off others power plays.  This has really only been an issue in the post Brad Richards' era the last 2 years.  This year was way better, but again, it is tough to draw penalties if you seldom have the puck.  And the Stars, since Modano and Richards were great together back in 2008 and 2009, this team hasn't seen the puck as much as they need.

Penalty Kill Percentages:


This has been something the Stars have desperately needed to improve upon, and they have done a solid job of getting better with.  They ranked 17th this year, which is back from 2012 when they were 13th, but this has not been a real sore thumb in a few years.

Faceoff Win Percentage:


As you know, this correlates to shot differential often, as you can't shoot if you don't have the puck.  And if you are losing face-offs as much as any team in hockey, you don't have the puck enough.  We are a long way from the days of the Stars having Modano, Carbonneau, and Nieuwendyk down the middle for face-offs.  

I could share more numbers, but I am guessing by now, you are paralyzed by these.  One more is worth looking at, which is Points Back from the Playoffs:

Points Out of the Playoffs:

As you can see, in a 48 Game season, finishing 7 points out is the equivalent of 12 points out in a normal length season.

There are plenty of things that need to be done to improve, but as we hear rhetoric about different ways to improve, you might like to have this bookmarked to compare the discussion with the raw numbers.  

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