The Stars are a very good penalty killing team.
They just don’t want to be doing it as much as they did Monday.
Dallas put the league’s best power play on the man advantage six times, and while the Edmonton Oilers scored just once on the power play, that turned out to be the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win at American Airlines Center.
“We went into the game tonight with the No. 2 penalty kill at home against the No. 1 power play in the league. We did a very good job, but they were out there too much,” said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness. “Taking six penalties isn’t part of our identity. Our penalty killing won us the game in Nashville. Their power play could have taken us right out of the game, but our penalty killers did a great job of keeping us in the game.”
The penalty kill is a huge part of this team. It’s been run by Bowness for the past two seasons and has posted remarkable numbers. Dallas was fifth in the regular season last year at 82.8 percent. It was first in the playoffs at 94.6 percent. This season, it’s third at 85.5 percent.
That’s why facing the Oilers was such a challenge. Edmonton ranks first on the power play both overall and on the road. It is a dynamic group led by the two leading scorers in the league — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — and it has not only converted at the highest rate, but scored the most power-play goals at 34.
So getting the job done on the kill was a point of personal pride.
Except … you just can’t give the Oilers that many chances.
The Stars took five tripping penalties and one hooking. The trips were mostly because Dallas players were getting their sticks caught in skates. Was that unfortunate timing by the officials? Was it because Dallas was playing its third game in four nights? Was it just a fluky game?
The Stars have been shorthanded 118 times, which ranks fifth most in the league, so they are prone to penalties. That said, they have not had to kill more than three penalties for any of the past nine games preceding Monday’s affair.
This was an unusual night.
So how did that happen? Well, you can blame the Oilers (who are a fast-skating, play-making team); and you can blame the Stars (who were a little bit tired, a little bit behind, and a little bit unlucky).
“You put your stick in a bad spot, and even if it’s not the best penalty called, your stick is in the area,” said Jason Dickinson. “So if we’re a little bit better with our sticks, maybe we won’t get those calls.”
But here’s the deal: The season is 82 games long, the Stars have just been through about as emotionally wrenching a week as you could imagine, and this team needs both rest and practice. It should be able to get that Tuesday and Wednesday before it reloads and goes on another run of three games in four nights in three different cities.
So much fun.
But that’s what you have to do to succeed in the NHL. That’s what you have to do to succeed in pro sports.
The Stars are one of the best penalty killing teams in the NHL because of their structure, because of their personnel, and because of their goaltending. That has proven out over almost a season and a half. It’s likely going to continue to be proven out over the remainder of this season.
It’s who they are.
Asked if the penalty kill reflects this team’s personality, Tyler Seguin said: “Yeah, grind it out, defense; penalty killing is all about that and team-first attitude. Sacrificing your body, blocking shots — that starts on the PK. It’s just little things throughout the game that are our identity.”
Ironically, rolling four lines also is a big part of the team’s identity, and you can’t do that if you’re killing too many penalties. Denis Gurianov and Corey Perry were both under 10 minutes of ice time Monday. Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg were both over 24. It just felt like an odd evening.
“We did a good job killing them, but it destroyed the rhythm of our team,” said Bowness. “The penalty we took in the third period (a tripping call on Andrej Sekera at the 7:55 mark) is a perfect example. We came out skating and were going after them and started to get some life to our game, and we took a penalty and now we’ve got to kill it.
“It took the flow out of our game for the most part,” Bowness said. “You just can’t get enough guys in the game and it affects the flow.”
So the Stars will take a deep breath with two days off and try to focus on the basics again. On the good side, they feel pretty confident about who they are.
“I mean, personally, I think it’s gone fairly smooth,” Dickinson said of the fact the team has had to adapt to some changes in the coaching staff. “(Bowness) has been around 30-something years, he’s a veteran coach. He knows everything there is to know about the game and you’ve got to trust him.
“I don’t think he’s really changed that much, so it’s been pretty smooth.”
Don’t miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Calgary Flames as they return home to American Airlines Center on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 6 p.m. The first 5,000 kids receive a Miro Heiskanen youth jersey presented by AT&T. Get your tickets now!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Courtesy: Mike Heika.