My ongoing theme for writing recently has been calling back to questions I posed in the offseason for the Dallas Stars, and this one is no different! Through 14 games, the Stars have a strong enough sample size to indicate that this team is as good or better at penalty killing than last year’s team.
New faces have stepped into Nasreddine’s unit and shown to be up to the task as the team has killed off 92% of the penalties they’ve faced. The Stars have successfully transferred the good, offset the bad, and made opposing power plays ugly (to complete this Spaghetti Western pun).
It all starts with the man behind the bench, but not the man that you’d think. Alain Nasreddine was part of my deep dive into the DeBoer hire last offseason when the new crew was made official. Nasreddine leveraged his gritty playing experience over 15 years, between the AHL & NHL, into an assistant role with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2010.
5 years later he wound up the PK assistant for the New Jersey Devils, head coached on an interim basis in ’19-’20 before being retained by Lindy Ruff for ‘21, and then joined his former coach DeBoer last year in Dallas. For as much as he was able to grind out on the ice, he’s proven his chops as an NHL assistant even more. The Stars PK is now reaping the benefits of his expertise year after year.
The Dallas Stars penalty kill was 3rd in the league last year with an 83.5% kill rate and was one of 7 teams to have at least 10 shorthanded goals. While shorthanded goals aren’t necessarily a standard for good penalty killing, it is indicative of how stifled opposing power plays are and how comfortable the Dallas Stars’ penalty killers are on the ice.
They’ve built off of last year’s efforts and top the league with a 91.8% kill rate and allowed a league-low 4 PP goals against. All the fun analytics also suggest that this rate will continue, as they rank top 5 in all the expected scoring & shooting output stats in Moneypuck’s 4v5 categories. The presence of the coach is vital to the success of the unit, and the personnel is completing their end of the bargain with the execution.
Daryl Razor Reaugh contends that the goalie is the most important penalty killer, and Otter has been irreplaceable, but Roope Hintz is a special teams cheat code. When put in simple terms, a penalty killer’s role is to take the puck from the defensive zone and get it to the offensive zone.
The effectiveness of Radek Faksa on the PK is in his patience & physicality to read it and then clear it. When Roope is deployed for the PK, albeit only 80 seconds a game, he will attack the puck and carry it the length of the ice to get it to the O-zone if he has to. This mindset is what led to the first of four shorthanded tallies of the season by Jamie Benn above, perfectly set up by Roope on the forecheck.
While Roope is used in a secret weapon capacity, the rest of the group has come together well with the new faces. Steel and Dellandrea are locked in for a split of PK duties depending on who sits, and each has served as upgrades to Kivi & Glendening after departing in the offseason.
While admittedly vanilla, Faksa has been the mainstay and makes it easy for the two young guns to slot in. Further, the much-maligned duo (for their 5-on-5 play/offensive output) of Lindell-Hakanpaa have been virtually irreplaceable as a pair that soaks up a combined 8 minutes per game. Bookended by Nasreddine’s coaching and Oettinger’s netminding, the skaters on this squad are playing comfortably amidst the storm and smothering the catalyst of opposing offenses.