Much like the playoff hopes of the Dallas Stars, gritty winger Antoine Roussel has disappeared over the last couple of months. Big things were expected of Roussel this season after he finished his sophomore campaign last season with 14 goals and 15 assists. He also had a whopping 209 penalty minutes, the third most during the 2013-14 season.
While Roussel’s penalty minutes are something of a liability, he fills a depth role nicely. He adds strength to the lineup, which, agree with it or not, is something most NHL coaches are looking for. But he’s not just a pair of boxing gloves on skates like some players whose value to a team is easily questioned. He’s putting pucks in the net, creating plays, and can handle a penalty kill role.
By January 17 of this season, all indications were that Roussel had grown this season. He was on pace to break 20 goals and 20 assists, he was on pace to not get quite so many penalty minutes while not giving up on his tough style of play. Roussel was looking like the kind of depth player a team needs to make a strong stretch run.
Then he disappeared.
Rules of the Game
The Stars were middle-of-the-pack in terms of possession in mid-January. On January 17 they had a 51.1% score-adjusted CF%, 16th in the league. Since that time they have put in a good push for a playoff spot with a 53.6% score-adjusted CF%, fifth best in the league.
The team has put in a good effort and has been sunk by lousy goaltending (which is much more complicated than just pointing out the poor save percentage, but that’s a discussion for another space).
With the team fighting for playoff position, Roussel fell off the face of the map. Through the season’s first 44 games he was on pace to break 20 goals and 20 assists in an 82-game season. In the 31 games since then (since January 18) he has one goal and one assist in 31 games.
His on-ice goals for percentage (GF%) has fallen from -7.6% relative to his teammates to -26.2% relative to teammates.
These drops have all taken place while he zone starts have improved from the first part of the season. Roussel has a difficult role on the team and faces many more defensive zone starts than offensive, but that balance has shifted during his slump. He went from a relative offensive zone start percentage (ZSO%Rel) of -11.7% to -6.94%.
Here’s a look at how his stats break out between those two time frames.
The Grand Illusion?
It looks ugly and Roussel has disappeared, but it’s not all bad news. While the stats are ugly, it mirrors some problems overall in Dallas. Their possession numbers have improved, but they have struggled getting the puck in the net at even strength. In the first 44 games the team average 2.3 goals per game at even strength. Since then, they have average 1.79.
On a personal level, Roussel appears to be doing some of the right things as well. His shots for per 60 minutes of even strength play (SF60) has gone up and the on-ice shots against per 60 minutes of even strength play (SA60) has gone down. The dropping GF% is at least partially a result of poor shooting percentage and Roussel’s own struggles to score, which you can see in his very low PDO since January 18.
It’s tough to explain away having just two points in 31 games, but there are at least signs that Roussel has not completely lost his game. There are signs that he is in a slump rather than the worse-case of we’re seeing what he is right now. That’s good news for the Stars. Maybe not now, while he hasn’t pulled out of the slump and they are just finishing out a lost season, but it’s good news for next season. It’s good news for the next three seasons that the Stars have Roussel under contract.
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Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.