You ever play those free poker tournaments online? No cash involved, just everyone gets handed chips and they play for fun. There’s always that guy who goes all-in on every hand. No matter what his cards are, he’ll push his chips towards the middle.
That’s the Dallas Stars.
Each and every shift, the Stars go all-in. They are either going to get a high-quality scoring chance or they are going to give up one on most shifts throughout the night. They believe that their goalies are going to stop more than the opposition’s.
Many times this season, they’ve been right. The Stars have gone 41-20-8 this season, good for 90 points and hanging around the leaders of the Western Conference all year-long. Lately they’ve been slipping as the defense has been leaking goals and the offense hasn’t been nearly as potent as fans in Dallas are accustomed to seeing. Statistical trends say they should go back up, but is this style of play good enough to win the Stanley Cup?
It’s going to be a gamble, each and every night.
Equal Opportunity Gameplay
At even-strength, the Stars have given up the third-highest total of high-danger scoring chances in the NHL with 665. They also have created the most high-danger scoring chances in the league with 715. That is the highest combined total of the two categories in the league and it makes for some exciting contests.
Will it be enough in the postseason is the real question. Power play opportunities generally go down as defensive players are able to get away with a little extra than they would in the regular season. “Defense wins championships” has been beaten over our head more often than Blackhawk outdoor games and that notion has proven true in the past. While the possession statistics heavily favor the Stars on most nights, that won’t matter as much if almost every shot attempt against is a quality scoring chance.
It’s not an ordinary type of gamble. It isn’t as heavily luck-based as gambling usually is. The Stars’ PDO (save-percentage+shooting-percentage) is currently sitting at 99.3. That’s suggesting, if anything, that the Stars have run in to a little more bad luck than good luck this year. Them sitting at the top of the Central (as of March 12th) is pretty much exactly where they should be given all the underlying metrics.
And yet here they are, still being questioned by many due to defense and goaltending.
Look to the Past
The questioning isn’t totally unwarranted but it may be blown a little out of proportion. When the Boston Bruins won their Cup in 2011, they gave up quite a few high-danger chances as well. In the regular season, they gave up the sixth-highest total of high-danger chances at even strength in the entire NHL. They also didn’t have the offense to make up for it like Dallas does this season, as the Bruins finished that season ninth in high-danger chances for. While it trimmed down a bit in the postseason, they still gave up the seventh-highest rate of high-danger-chances-per-60 among playoff teams.
In fact, they beat the team in the Stanley Cup who had the second-fewest high-danger-chances-per-60 allowed during the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks.
Last year saw similar results. The Chicago Blackhawks gave up the eighth-highest total of even-strength high-danger chances in the regular season. The playoffs hit and they gave up the sixth-highest rate of high-danger scoring chances than the rest of the field. Once again, unlike Dallas, they were unable to cover those losses with high-danger chances of their own.
The Rangers and Kings gave up the third and sixth-highest rates of high-danger scoring chances the year they met in the Cup final. Teams can and have won in the past giving up these chances.
It Will All Come Down to One Thing
For the Dallas Stars in the postseason, the X-factor will be the goaltending of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. They won’t be asked to steal a series or even a game. They will be asked to keep the Stars in each contest and not cost them any wins. Jonathan Quick won the Stanley Cup with a .911 save-percentage but those performances are few and far between.
The Stars will simply be gambling that their goaltending duo can keep the opposition to two or three goals each game. The offense is generally potent enough to where keeping the enemy down to two or three goals should suffice.
Dallas will be gambling on Niemi and Lehtonen in the playoffs. We’ll see if it pays off.
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