So after the game against Washington the other day, I had the random thought: maybe we’re having a harder time this year because we’re just not as good as the other playoff teams. So being the numbers nerd I am, I went to investigate.
Because the wild card spots are pretty up in the air in both conferences, I only pulled numbers for the Top 6 teams. For this exercise I used Score Adjusted Corsi For %, because it’s a better predictor of winning, and I used ‘all play situations’, so this includes power plays and penalty kills, as they tend to even out for the better teams. For the 2013-14 season, I didn’t include the playoff series against Anaheim in Dallas’ numbers, as that doesn’t speak to how we do in the regular season. Per usual, data is from war-on-ice.com.
At first glance, it certainly appears that we are playing much worse against top teams this year. On average, the Stars have dropped 4% in our CF% vs Western Conference Top 6, and 2.5% against the East. Of the 13 games we’ve played against the Top 6 in the West, we’ve only put up 4 games with a CF% over 50%. Against the East, we’re better, with 3 out of 5 games over 50%.
But maybe we’re just playing against much tougher competition these days.
There haven’t been many shake ups in the Top 6, with both conferences having 4 of 6 teams returning. The biggest differences you see on that graph are the Islanders and the Predators, both teams which made some big changes in the off season and have a year-over-year percent change (also known as YOY delta) of 9% and 8%, respectively. Detroit is the other “newcomer” in the East, and as we found out when the Stars played at Joe Lewis, they are quite good at possession (it was the Stars’ worst game versus a Top 6 opponent, with only a 39% CF%).
In fact, other than last year’s Stanley Cup contenders, the Rangers, every team in the East has leveled up in possession this year.
Not so in the West. St. Louis (-2% delta), Chicago (-2%), Vancouver (-4%), and San Jose (-5%) are all down YOY. The Stars, for comparison, have a -3% delta YOY.
So what does it mean? Well, it means that Top 6 teams are all doing similar things. Remember how last year the Western teams were spanking the Eastern ones (and we saw that in the SCF)? That’s probably not going to be the case this year. The Top 6 East is averaging 51.9% to the West’s 52.5%.
It also means (as we have seen) the Western conference is starting to level out in talent. Dallas is running similar numbers as Vancouver, but still has a ways to go to catch the leaders. On the other hand, you’ve got Nashville, San Jose, and St. Louis all right around 53%. The ever dominant Blackhawks still lead the league with 55%.
Still, the Stars are going to be the Stars, which means you can’t ever count them out.
This chart shows our Win, Loss, and OT percents. Yes, this year they’re not winning as much against the West, but they’re not losing as much, either. In fact, the points-per-game against the West is slightly better right now (an even 1.0 vs 0.96).
Clearly, the biggest change is how they’re faring against the much improved East. It’s a complete reversal of fortune, earning 1.2 PPG versus last season’s 0.67 PPG.
Now, take these numbers with a grain of salt – Dallas has only played 18 out of the 36 games against Top 6 teams this year, so the sample size is small. But it’s encouraging. If you look at the first 13 games against the West last year, there are 8 regulation losses to this year’s 4. We’ve only played 5 games against the East, so these findings could change in an instant, but again, it’s uplifting. The two games they’ve dropped were to the Islanders and the Red Wings, the most improved teams in the East. Last year, the Canadiens and the Rangers beat the Stars twice, and they’ve already picked up at least one W against those two teams.
This season, trying to predict what the Stars are going to do is like trying to predict the weather in Texas. But we know one thing for sure: much like how Texans are already prepping for summer, Dallas will bring the heat down this final stretch.