Examining if the 2019-20 Dallas Stars Were in Playoff Trouble

2019-20 Dallas Stars
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Just in the nick of time for one Central Division team, or so it would seem. No, not for the Winnipeg Jets nor the Minnesota Wild; the halt in play did no favours for either of these teams in playoff contention. But for the 2019-20 Dallas Stars, the season’s unprecedented stoppage may have come as a much-needed breather.

2019-20 Dallas Stars Playoff Trouble

Where They Sit

The Stars (third in the Central) were one of the teams in freefall when the NHL season was postponed indefinitely. They were 0-4-2 in their last six games heading into this break.

NHL free agent frenzy

The six-game slump was Dallas’ worst run since their torrid 3 points from 9 games to open the season. From their 10th game victory against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Stars had been on an upward trajectory all season long. They have been in a playoff spot since November 14th and held either the second or third seed in the Central since December 28th.

However, six losses around the start of March, and all of a sudden, the once cushy gap they had boasted a month prior started to disappear. The gap over their fellow Central division foes: Jets (6), Nashville Predators (10) and Wild (9) had been slashed to two, four and five respectively.

Of course, the global pandemic of Coronavirus may later result in a definitive cancellation of all further play within the current campaign. But should there be any Stanley Cup Playoff action at this point, Dallas will be a part of it. Would that have been the case though, if the regular season had been completed with 82 games played?

Worrying March Slump

The 2019-20 Dallas Stars have been a good team because they are organized and hard to break down. Their offence won’t set the world alight, but they have strong goaltending and a good defensive core. They create better chances than the opposition because they succeed in designing a frustrating defensive system that feeds off other team’s mistakes. During the six-game slump, however, the Stars’ play was characterized by indiscipline and sloppiness.

Dallas committed three penalties in 7 minutes against the St. Louis Blues. Then, gave Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl five power-play chances when the Edmonton Oilers came to town. They also conceded three power-play goals against the Predators, one of the worst teams in the league on the man advantage.

Dallas let the Boston Bruins dominate them in the blue paint, losing defensive coverage on two tap-in goals. They were completely outgunned by the New York Rangers, in movement, drive and threat. They have been throwing errant passes on the regular in the offensive zone, which have led to quick breakouts and high danger chances the other way. See Adam Fox’s opening goal for the Rangers on March 10th. Or the Blue’s third goal on a Ryan O’Reilly to Brayden Schenn 2-on-1 on February 29th. Finally, the overtime turnover vs Oilers on March 3rd, which led to Esa Lindell’s trip on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the resulting power-play winner.

Yet with all of this factored in, Dallas’ underlying numbers haven’t looked all that bad.

Analytics Deep Dive of the 2019-20 Dallas Stars

Last 6 games Season
Shooting percentage (Sh%) 4.27 (31st) 8.42 (28th)
Save Percentage (Sv%) .904 .924
PDO (Sh% + Sv%) 0.946 (29th) 1.004 (14th)
xGoals For/60 (xGF/60) 2.88 (11th) 2.76 (10th)
High Danger Chances For % 59.06 (1st) 53.27 (4th)
Goals Against/60 2.62 (11th) 2.49 (2nd)
xGoals Against/60 (xGA/60) 2.89 (20th) 2.58 (10th)
Goals Against/60 at 5v5 1.91 (7th) 2.01 (2nd)
xGoals Against/60 at 5v5 1.74 (1st) 2.12 (7th)


The most glaring stats in the table, during this current funk, fall under expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGoals Against/60) and shooting percentage (Sh%). The team hasn’t been able to buy a goal of late and are worst in the league at converting shots on net into goals.

Meanwhile, the expected goals against have soared given their poor form on the penalty kill. Dallas was 7/18 on the PK over the last six games, but this was a prevailing issue before the slump too. In their last 20 games, Dallas has conceded 16 goals on 54 penalty-killing attempts and were third-worst in goals against per 60 minutes.

Shooting Percentage Explained

Their shooting percentage (Sh%) of 4.27% in the last six games is an insane stat. Especially given that the Stars have one of the most accurate players in the league in Denis Gurianov. The Russian rookie right-winger has been in the top 25 in the league for shooting percentage (19.18) since Rick Bowness became the Stars coach in early December.

But for some reason, management hasn’t given him the minutes to back up his current play. He is ranked twelfth among Stars’ forwards in time on ice since December and was promoted only as far as ninth during the winless streak. He is the first rookie in Dallas since Jamie Benn (09-10 season) to score 20 goals in a season. However, he hasn’t been utilized to fully capitalize on his sharpshooting streak.

Despite that, the Star’s shooting percentage should improve on its own accord because four percent is abysmally bad and as a result is driving Dallas’ PDO (Save percentage + Shooting percentage) into the unlucky territory.

The amount of shots on net, that ultimately go in, is driven primarily by luck because any team can run into a pretty hot goaltender at any point. This skews the offensive shooting numbers. Say, for instance, the Predators’ Juuse Saros shutting the Stars out two games in a row. Ultimately, the Sh% metric is expected to verge towards the league average of around 9.5 percent over time. That is more than double, Dallas’s recent shot accuracy.

On the other hand, the Stars’ Penalty Kill may be a greater concern.

2019-20 Dallas Stars Coaches Breakdowns

Rick Bowness (post 9th Dec 19) Jim Montgomery (pre 9th Dec 19)
Expected Goal Share 50.01 (21st) 53.6 (2nd)
Shooting Percentage 8.42 (31st) 8.41(32nd)
xGF/60 (On the Power Play) 7.03 (13th) 7.47 (4th)
Power Play Efficiency 1.2 0.85
Save Percentage on PK .835 (34th) .904 (4th)
xGA/60 (On the Penalty Kill) 6.47 (21st) 6.23 (14th)
TOI/Game for PK 5:09 (17th) 6:42 (5th)
Penalty Kill Efficiency 0.75 1.15

*Rankings are based on the list of 39 coaches, who have led an NHL team this season.*

Penalty Kill: Bowness versus Montgomery

Since Rick Bowness took over as Head Coach of the Dallas Stars from Jim Montgomery in December, the special teams have taken a hit on the defensive end.

The power play efficiency coefficient in the table above was obtained by dividing the actual goals scored by the expected goals for, whereas for the penalty kill, the expected goals against were divided by the actual goals conceded. In short, figures over 1 indicate over performance while below 1 is not playing to potential. (Approaching 1 is playing to expectation.)

Bowness’ Stars have been underachieving on the penalty kill despite the fact the team is playing much less time with a man down compared to the Jim Montgomery led Stars. Although, there is also a stark contrast between the save percentage that both coaches were getting.

According to Money Puck, out of 57 goaltenders who have played at least 20 games, Ben Bishop (-0.57%) and Anton Khudobin (-1.595%) are 27th and 45th in save percentage above expected on the penalty kill, respectively. It’s true that a save percentage of .835 on the PK isn’t a recipe for long term success and that blame will fall primarily on sub-par goaltending but it isn’t the only factor at play.

For instance, Bowness’ Stars have conceded 3.99 High Danger Goals-per 60 minutes, which is over 1.6 more per hour than Jim Montgomery’s team. Khudobin and Bishop can’t be solely blamed for conceding more high danger attempts. These are more difficult to stop, which is also an indictment on the PK system in front of the goalies.

However, would all of this be enough to see Dallas drop out of the top four or five teams in the Central if the regular season was completed?

Playoff Odds

It is unlikely that enough was going wrong with the 2019-20 Dallas Stars to create a full-on bottoming out in the stretch run. As explained above, the shooting percentage was going to improve significantly over the remaining 13 games. And while the penalty kill was concerning as a point of weakness, there would still need to be three bubble teams on serious streaks to leapfrog Dallas in the standings.

The third team below Dallas in the Central is Minnesota, who are five points back. If Dallas went along at a meagre .500 rate, the Wild would still need to win nine of thirteen to finish higher than the Stars. Money Puck reflects this idea with their Playoff Odds Model; currently, Dallas has the eighth highest odds to make the Playoffs under a normal regular season template, at 93.4%.

And what’s more, with all contenders below Dallas playing multiple games against each other, while Dallas had four games against California teams, it is hard to imagine the 2019-20 Dallas Stars not making it to the first round.

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