With the NHL trade deadline has come and gone, the Stars are effectively unchanged from where they were before, having made only the minor depth trade of Emil Djuse to Florida for a sixth-round pick.
Jim Nill stated post-deadline that Stars are comfortable with their current players and where they are at in the standings. It’s difficult to argue that point when the Stars are 7th overall in the standings and currently 36-20-6.
That being said, the messaging from the club that the Stars are a team that plays to their identity as an elite defensive team, strangling other team’s offense and counter-attacking to win games is worth questioning, particularly given the way the Stars were shown up by the St. Louis Blues this past Friday.
Let’s break down some of the numbers.
Undoubtedly, when it comes to goals against, the Stars are one of the best teams in the league, sitting 28th overall with 2.01GA/60. Only the Avalanche, the Blue Jackets, and the Bruins are more stingy when it comes to conceding goals against. The Stars also sit 2nd overall in save percentage. However, goals against and save percentage are arguably much more of a goaltender statistic than a team-wide statistic, if the Stars were truly an elite defensive team we’d expect them to excel at shot suppression.
In fact, the unblocked shots against are much more middle of the pack, with the Stars sitting 14th overall on shots on goal against, with Fenwick and Corsi coming out 15th and 19th in the league respectively. So while the Stars are indeed stingy with goals, their shot suppression is no more than average at best.
The St. Louis Blues, on the other hand, is a truly elite defensive team. They lead the league in shot suppression, Corsi Against, and Fenwick against. When watching them play the Stars it was notable how structured their defensive game was. I’ve previous argued here that structural, successful checking on the penalty kill looks something like this:
Extending to defense in all situations, while you would expect a penalty kill to have a more defensive positioning, in all situations, you would expect to check to take place more aggressively in the offensive zone and above the red line.
While the NHL doesn’t track checks in their play by play data we can look at takeaway events (where one team seizes the puck from the other team) as something of a proxy.
When we look at the differences structurally the distributions for Dallas and St. Louis look like this…
Broadly speaking, there isn’t a huge structural difference, in the defensive zone, although Dallas seems to check more along the boards than St. Louis. What is noticeable is St. Louis’ willingness to seize possession of the puck in the offensive zone, something they do around 20% more often than the Stars.
When looking at checking above the red-line the Blues are very much more aggressive than the Stars, gaining the puck almost 50% more than Dallas across all strength play. Offense in a natural aspect of defense, if you have the puck in the offensive zone, the opponent cannot be on the attack and it seems to be here that the Stars are weakest of all.
So, we can see that analytically speaking the Stars are a team that has defense pretty on par with the league average. It appears that they lack the aggressive offensive-defense that top teams have. Goaltending is notoriously difficult to quantify in isolation, but the Stars tandem have been outstanding across every available metric and it’s that elite goaltending that has pushed the Stars to the results they have had.
The Stars could be a Cup contender this season. If they want to continue to be in future seasons they either have to fix the system or hope that their goaltending doesn’t regress to the mean.
Featured Image: Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images