The Dallas Stars are in a tight race to make the playoffs and only have 14 games remaining in the regular season. Every point matters.
Ideally, Dallas will just have the lead, or at least tied, heading into the last 5 minutes of the game. Realistically, this will not be the case for the final stretch of games, as much fun as that would be if it were to happen. The key to executing starts with a good plan. Most teams in the NHL will pull their goalie in order to get an extra attacker on the ice and provide a pseudo power play opportunity. But is this a strategy that still works or is it an old idea that needs to be scrapped in favor of new ones?
The stats can help tell the story and shape the Stars strategy late in games while trailing…
What the Stats Say
As the charts above, courtesy of Morehockeystats.com, the Stars have only managed to score two goals on twenty-six attempts with six skaters on the ice. So far this season, the Detroit Red Wings have scored the most, with 7, while having the extra man on the ice. The numbers tend to suggest that more likely than not, you either are not going to score the tying goal or you will give up the back-breaking goal that puts the game out of reach. Dallas has more often than not given up that back breaking goal, leading the league with 16 surrendered on the season. It should be stated, there are times when a team will give up multiple empty net goals so some of these stats can be slightly inflated, but the trend league wide still is valid.
Looking at how teams play with an empty net really only can tell us half the story. How are teams faring this season against the team with the net empty?
Teams in the league have combined to score 92 goals while having their net empty so far this season. In contrast, 328 empty net goals have been allowed. Dallas has accounted for nine of those empty net goals while only surrendering one. Overall, the Stars have excelled while playing against the empty net, but have struggled mightily to score that vital game tying goal with the extra man. Why have the Stars and other teams struggled so mightily to score though?
On paper, it makes sense to pull your goaltender for now you will always have an extra player who the other team is unable to cover just from a math perspective of 6 is greater than 5. But, why does this numbers advantage not play out more often to where more teams score with this advantage?
Fitting 11 players into a small space limits the mobility and space of the players to be creative and also fills up the passing and shooting lanes making it more difficult to get the puck through and on net. Yes, more players means you can put more players in front of the goalie to block their view, but it also means that is one more player that the puck has to get through in order to go in the net. Additionally, that extra player in front of the net will draw another defender causing at times 3, 4 or even 5 players to be standing in front of the net leaving little to no room to get a shot through, even if it gets on net, you still have to get it past the goaltender. More players, less ice, less space leads to less goals for the team with the extra attacker.
The Stars struggles have come with keeping possession of the puck and being accurate with their shots on goal. Taking away space on the ice in the offensive zone makes it even more difficult and more vital for an inaccurate shot can turn into the other team gaining possession and shooting the puck down the ice for a potential 200 foot empty net goal or a breakout that leads to the same result, a tough loss.
Trailing For A Reason
The most simplistic reason as to why more teams are not scoring with the extra attacker comes from the fact that there is a reason the team is trailing, the team has not played well enough to have the lead. It may not be their night, the other team may just be flat-out better, lack of energy, there are plenty of reasons why a team is trailing late in the game. Adding another skater to the ice when the team is not playing at their best will likely not do anything to change that fact either.
Many times when the Stars have been trailing it is due to their inability to possess the puck and keep the pressure on the opposing team. The passes are not crisp or the shots are not accurate. Adding an extra skater does not make your passes or shots more accurate and it does not help the team play better. Often times in these games, Bishop or Khudobin are the best players for the Stars on the ice and taking them off has not yielded results. Both have excellent puck handling skills and can actually help provide start rushes on the offensive end. So what should the Stars do instead of pulling the goaltender for the extra attacker?
Invite The Pressure
The key to opening up a team in order to score goals is to create time and space in the offensive zone. Six skaters on the ice does nothing more than force the opposing team to turtle into a defensive shell and wait for an opportunity to shoot for the empty net. Dallas should instead apply pressure on their opponent and potentially trapping them in their defensive zone allowing an odd man rush the other way. Bishop and Khudobin have both proven to be satisfactory in their puck handling ability. Their ability to provide an outlet pass quickly and accurately can lead to catching the other team out of position and provide a high quality scoring chance. We have seen it generate offense in the past, so why not try it late in the game?
Points are so vital right now and given the lack of success, not just for the Stars but teams across the league, it can do nothing but help in regard to trying something new late in the game. Monty has shown he is willing to be creative and open to new ideas this season and has not been afraid to shake things up.
Allowing the other team to be aggressive while the Stars are trailing could be the mix up that allows the Stars to steal an extra point, if not two, late in the season which can make all the difference between playing in the playoffs and playing golf in California.
Featured Image: Ryan Kennedy, thehockeynews.com, Photo: Glenn James/NHL via Getty Image