Wednesday the Dallas Stars demonstrated they could play with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and occasionally dominate them. The Lightning are the deepest team in hockey by a good margin. Ultimately the Stars lost, but you have to be encouraged by how they lost. The loss got me wondering what the biggest underlying differences are between the two teams.
Obviously we know Tampa Bay is deeper up front. They have guys on their fourth line who could reasonably compete for spots in the Stars top six. Are all these guys amazing, or does how Tampa plays magnify the skills they do have?
I don’t know, but as a group they work wonderfully. One thing that is unquestionable is that they are much more effective at entering the offensive zone with possession of the puck.
The chart to the right displays Zone Entry data per hour as tracked by Corey Sznajder and visualized by CJ Turtoro. The chart is sorted by successful entries with possession. In order the metrics are Pass Entries, Carry Ins, Dump Ins, and Failed Entries. It isn’t lost on me that the top four are Lightning forwards, and four of the top eleven. At least one forward from each of their lines is in that top 11 including the full “2nd line” of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Tyler Johnson.
Maintaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone makes the entire process of scoring goals easier. For instance, the Stars attempt .46 shots per zone entry. When they carry the puck in that number jumps to .66 in the games tracked. Scoring is easier when you have the puck. Tampa Bay does a much better job of making sure they maintain possession of the puck as they attack.
One thing the Stars do really well is keep pucks out of their net. That doesn’t mean they have better defensemen though, which is something I vaguely remember someone associated with the broadcast saying the other night. Emphasis on the word vaguely. I could be making that up, but it feels like something I heard. Maybe the point was saying the Stars have a better defense?
Who knows? The point remains. Tampa has really good defensemen. They help generate offense the way that Stars coach Jim Montgomery would probably, in a perfect world, like his guys to do it.
The Lightning Shot Contributions from defensemen put the Stars to shame. Victor Hedman and John Klingberg are neck and neck, but Tampa has three more guys who contribute more to shot generation than the Stars second best, Miro Heiskanen.
None of that is to say that those guys are better than Heiskanen. The well-oiled system Tampa plays undoubtedly helps. So does the ridiculous forward depth and awesome ability to enter the zone. But there can be little question that Tampa Bay’s defense does contribute more offensively than the Stars unit.
This sample of data is only 10-15% of a full season. Undoubtedly these numbers will fluctuate some. The general idea remains the same though. Tampa Bay is so much better at entering the zone with possession, and their defensemen are so much more successful at helping generate offensive opportunities than Dallas. When the Stars play at full speed on top of their game they showed they can skate with them. The question for the remainder of the season is if they can consistently put that level of play on display.