I started out in my working life as a Physicist and as such I’m always a numbers girl. When it comes to most things, and particularly hockey, my first reaction is “But what do the numbers say?”

I dug through the NHL’s play-by-play data for every game this season in order to figure out exactly what it is that the Stars started by doing badly, and have subsequently improved. Specifically, I want to look at the forwards, and their more aggressive checking play as of late, as the defense has been pretty consistent all season.

The play-by-play data doesn’t actually break out checking per se, but I figured for a rough look we can use hits and takeaways as a reasonable proxy and the difference for the forward groups, particularly in their own zone is rather obvious. 

Hits and take-aways by Stars forwards against BostonIn the interest of brevity, I’ll discuss 2 games, the first game of the season against Boston, which the Stars lost 2-1 and the recent 6-1 mauling of the Canucks.

In the Boston game, the Stars forwards combined for 10 total hits, 4 in their own zone (2 behind the goal line), 3 on the defensive side of the neutral zone and 3 in the Boston offensive zone (zero behind the goal line). They also had 6 recorded takeaways, 3 takeaways in the defensive zone, 1 on the Boston side of the neutral zone and 2 in the offensive zone.

In the Vancouver game (at the AAC) the play-by-play data recorded 16 hits, including 7 at or behind their own goal line and another 2 in the offensive zone. The number of takeaways was the same at 6. So we can definitely see that the number of hits being made by the Stars forwards was much higher in the game they won.Hits and Takeaways by Stars forwards against Vancouver

Looking at every game this season and the picture is pretty consistent. When the Stars forwards are playing a strong checking game, particularly in their own zone, then more often and not they will have success. “Forecheck, backcheck, paycheck!” is one of many hockey-related catchphrases used by Riley and Jonesy, Senior A players extraordinaire from the Canadian TV show, Letterkenny.

I’m not saying that the quote occurred to me and then the idea for this post followed but I’m not, not saying that either. It’s actually a great summary of the Stars play right now during the recent run of games that has them sitting joint second in the central division.

While the defense started out the year pretty decent and has continued to be solid, it’s obvious that the improved checking game of the forwards both up the ice, and particularly back in the defensive zone has contributed to their increased production.
To use another Letterkenny quote: “that’s a Texas-size 10-4”.

Featured Image: The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward
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