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Hockey

Let’s Talk About the Stars’ Pesky Overtime Problem

Dallas is one of the best teams in hockey while being one of the NHL's worst in the extra period. Why are they struggling, and how much does it really matter?
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The extra period has hurt Dallas more than helped this season. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Stars are 3-10 in overtime, which is (obviously) bad. Judging by fan reaction, you’d think it’s borderline catastrophic. And, to be fair, there isn’t a whole lot encouraging about being on pace for 16 overtime losses, which would tie the record set by the ‘15-’16 Carolina Hurricanes, when the 3-on-3 format was introduced. Carolina missed the playoffs that year, and Dallas isn’t in much better company in ‘22-’23, either. The Stars’ win percentage in overtime ranks among the league’s worst teams, with San Jose and Philadelphia being the most notable. Not the hallmark of a contender, right?

Not exactly. Recall that the Stars were great in overtime last year, when they went 15-6. That didn’t make them a great team: they were the only squad to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential, which didn’t make it too surprising when they were subsequently bounced in the first round. Also recall that Dallas had overtime demons in the 2020-2021 season, when it was 6-14. The Stars missed the playoffs that year, getting pushed out by a team with four more regulation losses. Meanwhile, the teams succeeding in overtime this year—St. Louis (7-3), Vancouver (7-3), Montreal (8-4), and Anaheim (9-5)—happen to be teams mostly trying to tank in the race for Connor Bedard. If you’re confused, just know that hockey’s point system is dumb, which is why no other major league has it. And that’s only the start of why Dallas’ overtime woes aren’t worth fretting about as much as you might think. They are, after all, first in the Central and fifth in the entire league going into the All Star break.

Overtime is like the rest of hockey—defined by talent and, to a lesser extent, luck. There’s no correlation between good teams being bad or good in overtime, either. (Although somebody might want to steal Jon Cooper’s playbook: his Lightning teams have won a league-leading 63 percent of their overtime games). Since 2015, there are 67 teams with at least 10 overtime losses over a full season, and 23 percent of them had points percentages over 60. Of the 46 teams with six or fewer overtime losses, 23 percent of them had win percentages below 50.

But while a bad overtime record may not tell us anything meaningful, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. Namely, what’s going so wrong for Dallas in the extra period.

Before setting out to do that, though, I rewatched every overtime loss at 3-on-3. Miro Heiskanen, Jason Robertson, and Jamie Benn have struggled the most. Because overtime is as much about each shift as it is about the shifts beforehand, I tallied all the goals against for each player when they were on the ice or on the ice prior to the goal against. Heiskanen “led” the way with nine, followed by Robertson with seven, and Benn with six. Curiously, playing Heiskanen and Robertson together has produced the worst results for Dallas. They’ve been on the ice for—or on the ice just prior to—a whopping 75 percent of the goals scored against Dallas at 3-on-3. 

Let’s take a step back. This is Dallas’ best defensive player and its best goal scorer. They are excellent hockey players. And they also happened to be on the roster last season, when the team went 15-6 in overtime. What changed?

Below you’ll see the five most-used skaters at 3-on-3, their shot-attempt share, and expected goal share comparing this season to last with the average skater’s plus/minus in between.

The first thing that stands out is the Stars aren’t getting unlucky in overtime. They’re getting destroyed. Not a single one of their primary overtime skaters is on the plus side of generating quantity or quality. The Stars aren’t good at generating takeaways in the offensive zone, either, ranking 21st, which compounds some of their issues with breaking up opposing possessions.

But they weren’t all that great last season. The difference is that Dallas shot over 19 percent at 3-on-3 (ranking ninth) while this year they’re shooting over 13 percent (ranking 23rd). Overtime puts a premium on skating, and Dallas hasn’t been a fast team for a while. As you can see above, neither Robertson nor Joe Pavelski was used as much last year. The increased presence of their clunky skating might explain some of the Stars’ problems if Heiskanen and Roope Hintz didn’t grade out even worse.  

There are two simple explanations for what’s going on here. The first is that they’ve lost in overtime to some really good teams. Counting only losses that ended at 3-on-3, the average win percentage of Stars opponents this year is .659. Last year, the average win percentage of opponents Dallas beat in 3-on-3 overtime was .519. That’s a difference in quality—contenders instead of bridge trolls—rather than degree. 

The other explanation is a little bit more complex. Dallas misses John Klingberg, who was second on the team in overtime points last season. Or, more specifically, Dallas misses a player like Klingberg: another quarterback who can take the attack from the defensive zone through the neutral zone, and into the offensive zone. One observation The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn made when watching every overtime game in 2021 is that the more often a trio resets after the first attack fails, the more dangerous its subsequent chances become. Dallas won’t come out and say it, but they sorely need a new initiator. 

The hope was that Nils Lundkvist could be that player. He hasn’t been, but nobody expected the 22-year-old to be a finished product, which is what makes the recent drama surrounding his healthy scratches so confusing. Lundkvist is a rookie who will make rookie mistakes. But he’ll only develop his NHL talents by playing NHL games, and the Stars will need him to be experienced against elite teams if they have any hope of leaning on him in the playoffs. Even the otherwise mild-mannered Sean Shapiro expressed his frustration over how the Stars have handled Lundkvist on the Spits and Suds podcast.

The treatment of Lundkvist would be moderately tolerable if the Stars were more clever about replacing Klingberg. Instead, they keep doubling down on what’s not working. Ryan Suter has slowly taken over Klingberg’s minutes, becoming the second-most-used defender throughout the regular season. While much is made about the fact that he plays so many minutes, that’s not as interesting as what happens within those minutes. When Suter is on the ice, no defenseman is targeted more on zone entries, which is why he struggles to retrieve the puck at an acceptable rate. He’s a team-worst -7 in unblocked shot differential in minutes versus elite competition compared to the rest of the team, and he actively drags the team’s offense down. He’s not just making the mistakes of a player in physical decline; he’s making bizarre decisions, too. You’d like to see more from the rest of the group, of course, but that’s tough when it’s not given more minutes to do more. 

Granted, neither Lundkvist nor Suter play significant 3-on-3 minutes, but Dallas’ inability to develop one while ignoring the other’s deterioration only makes that absence of another impact defender more glaring. This isn’t about whether or not Suter should be scratched for Lundkvist. Fair or not, Suter won’t ever be scratched. And whether fans like it or not, no team would feel inspired by seeing a veteran player sit in the press box, either. 

No, this is about recognizing deficiencies. There’s an explanation for why Heiskanen is not grading out like the elite defender he usually is; not having someone to take the pressure off him is likely part of it. In addition, the Stars are 16th in shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes of even-strength play, and ninth in expected goals against. That means Jake Oettinger is the reason Dallas is fifth in goals against. The last time Dallas’ goals against were confused for good defense, things didn’t work out so well.

Dallas doesn’t have to worry about 3-on-3 in the postseason. The Stars could lose every game in overtime from here on out and still make the cut. (They’d finish with 97 points, in case you were wondering). However, they do have to worry about the holes opponents will exploit when the playoffs roll around. That’s where the overtime conversation is instructive: for the window it provides into much bigger problems. Figuring out the importance of letting Lundkvist develop into the player he has the potential to be or trading for a defender they know can perform at a level Lundkvist hasn’t yet reached is far more important than the overtime win-loss record. Same goes for the challenge of deploying Suter according to who he is now, not who he once was. 

Because no matter if it’s 3-on-3 or 5-on-5, the personnel will determine how far Dallas goes, not the difference in game state. So if you’re the panicky sort, worry about the former. Not the latter.

Author

David Castillo

David Castillo

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David Castillo covers the Stars for StrongSide. He has written for SB Nation and Wrong Side of the Red Line,…

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