The Stars Are the New Avalanche

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 28: James Neal #18 of the Dallas Stars is headed for the ice as he scores a goal against goalie Peter Budaj #31 of the Colorado Avalanche as Adam Foote #52 of the Avalanche is penalized for hooking on the play in the third period during preseason NHL action at the Pepsi Center on September 28 2010 in Denver Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Stars 2-1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

"Learn to lose, it's easier that way..."
--Stephen Duffy & Steven Page, "Everything Old Is New Again"

Poor Dallas fans.  They are searching for answers for the recent 2-8-1 slide.  They've come up with some good ones - goaltending, mental toughness, injuries, backchecking, coaching, depth, depth scoring, and they've even polled the populace to figure the whole thing out.  Understand the frustration of your average Stars fan:  the team has dealt with a bankrupt owner and a sale squabble for a year now.  The Stars have been limited by those ownership issues and cannot spend near the cap this season.  In spite of all of that, the Stars broke out of the gates like none of it matter and hit the half-way mark as the top team in the Pacific Division and the third-best team in the Western Conference.  By the middle of January, the Stars looked like a team who could really contend in April and May. 

Then the bottom fell out.  Five points in the last 29 days have caused the Stars to slide from 3rd in the conference in points earned / game all the way down to 7th and now the Wild, Ducks, Flames, Blackhawks and Blue Jackets are knocking on the door.  If the Stars don't turn this around, they'll quickly find themselves in 12th place.

If this all sounds familiar, you're right if you said "This sounds a lot like the Avalanche from last season."  Last year's little engine that could - the team that won because of superior motivation and chemistry, the team that the numbers couldn't explain followed a very similar path to these Stars.

This is a bad team at EV.  But they've outscored their opponents 5-on-5 103-94 because of very strong percentages (PDO of 102.2) that get even stronger when the score is close (PDO of 103.1).  They get outshot.  They get outchanced.    When it comes to the 2009-10 Colorado Avalanche, I am an unbeliever.

And the Avs good luck wasn't a secret.

Obviously a team can get outshot and still win with a great goaltender, but in the long-run, teams simply do not sustain high shooting percentages.  If Colorado's shooters had merely been league average, the Avalanche would have 72 points today and a playoff spot would feel very much out-of-reach.

Colorado's luck ran out on January 28th, 2010:

From the beginning of the season through January 24th, the Avs had 66 points in 51 games, or 1.29 points per game.  Avs fans were talking about a 105 point season.  Through the same period, the Avs Corsi percentage was .422 - they were getting absolutely shelled at even strength.  But Colorado's even strength save percentage of .932 (thanks Craig Anderson!) kept them from being Blue Jackets-level awful...

...From January 28th through today, Colorado has 27 points in 28 games, or .964 points per game.  The even strength save percentage during that span has been .916 and talk of Anderson as an "Elite goalie" has disappeared.  The team PDO in that stretch is 100.1 and the Avs have been a 79 point team rated out for a full season.

This year, the Stars saw their luck run out on January 21st.  From the beginning of the season through January 20th, the Stars had 63 points in 47 games, or 1.34 points per game.  They were on pace for a 110 point season and Stars fans were talking about a Western Division title and buying pieces at the deadline for a run at the Western Conference.  But during that period, the Stars' Corsi percentage was ~.450 - they were getting absolutely shelled at even strength. Their goaltenders saved them by posting an astounding .938 even strength save percentage and a .874 short-handed save percentage.  Like Colorado, they were relying on unsustainable goaltending.   According to Sports Club Stats' models, the Stars were 97% to make the playoffs, though it's quite clear Sports Club Stats does not take outshooting or sustainable performance into account.

From January 21st through today, Dallas has 5 points in 11 games, or .454 points per game.  They've played at a 37 point pace and though that's well-below their true talent, sometimes performance corrections hit hard.  Sports Club now has the Stars at 51% to make the playoffs, a ridiculous fall.  During those 11 games, those same goaltenders have posted a .883 even strength save percentage and a .824 short-handed save percentage.  Kari Lehtonen has collapsed.  The Stars are still plagued by shots - their shots, Fenwick and Corsi percentages all hover around 45%

In March 2010, Scott said the following about the Avs:  "They could still make the playoffs, but it will be awfully close and I wouldn't put any money on them taking the Northwest division."

The Avs barely held on, and barely made the playoffs where the Sharks wrecked them.  And now the same holds true for Dallas.  The Stars could hit another lucky streak and start winning games, but it's more likely they won't.  They could still hold on and make the playoffs, but at this point, I believe their chances are well below the 52% Sports Club is giving them.  Rather than follow Colorado's example of going with the same team that was shelled a year prior, the Stars best bet is to sell what they can now and build for next year, recognize the weaknesses of the team, fill in the gaps and try again next year.

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