Midway through the second period of Game 3, the Stars were gifted a golden opportunity when the Predators took a second penalty less than a minute into a penalty kill. This gave Dallas a two-man advantage for a minute and a half at a key juncture of the game, down by one. Now, all that space opens up a ton of possibilities. Would the Stars try to set up Jamie Benn in the middle of the slot, since they scored three of their four goals from the inner slot in Games 1 & 2? Maybe, some one-timers from the circles by either Tyler Seguin or Alex Radulov?
The answer, apparently, was none of the above. Instead, Jim Montgomery had Seguin and Radulov set up right on the goal line, firing sharp angle shots over and over again. Just look at this sequence:
Instead of driving pucks to the middle for Benn or sending it to John Klingberg or Miro Heiskanen at the blueline when the three defenders were collapsing to the slot, they kept firing from right along the goal line. Klingberg even passes up a wide-open slot shot, choosing to pass it along to, you guessed it, Seguin on the goal line who tried, unsuccessfully, to beat Rinne short side.
That 10-second segment wasn’t an anomaly. The Stars were actively looking for these outside shots from below the hashmarks all night, predictably with no success. Heiskanen had three of them in the final minute alone, when the goalie was pulled and the Stars desperately needed a goal. In total, I counted 19 separate attempts from the perimeter below the dots. That’s 19 of 83 shot attempts, or almost a quarter of their attempts all night. This, plus the stellar play of Pekka Rinne and a couple of soft goals allowed by Ben Bishop, contributed Dallas losing a game it thoroughly dominated.
To me, this is a classic case of overthinking it. Rinne does have a weakness to sharp angle shots relative to the league and Jim Montgomery appears to have picked up on it. When Rinne hugs his post, he positions himself in a way that allows him to easily and efficiently push off and reach cross-ice passes. He showed off those lateral skills when he robbed Jamie Benn in the third period.
When pucks are on the perimeter, Rinne decides to cheat a little bit in favor of quick side-to-side reaction at the cost of some coverage when he hugs the post. As a result, he allowed the third-most “bad angle” goals in the NHL during the regular season. While that may seem like something that a team would be smart to attack, there’s no way this should be your primary target. Third-worst means Rinne gave up 12 of these goals on 212 shots against. We define these “bad angle” goals as goals from below the hashmarks and outside the slot that weren’t one-timers or rebound opportunities. That’s a meager 5.7% shooting percentage, a mark that was beaten by over 500 players who played at least 10 games this season.
Once in a while, one of these bad shots will go in and can be the difference maker. Just look at Game 7 last year against Winnipeg, where Tyler Myers scored the first goal from a terrible angle that managed to sneak through Rinne.
That was a lucky play more than anything and illustrates the classic “get pucks to the front of the net and hope something happens” mantra. What boggles my mind is that the Stars have had the most success in this series when they’ve managed to get pucks right in front of Rinne, as opposed to shooting from the perimeter. Both of their goals last night? Right in the inner slot. Same goes for five of their six total goals through three games.
This is a game Dallas, without a doubt, should have won, but they squandered the opportunity to go up 2-1 in the series by stubbornly going back to a low-percentage shot again and again instead of trying to drive the play to the middle, where they’ve had almost all of their success so far. Jim Montgomery needs to remind his players (and himself) that, while Rinne is weaker than average on sharp angle shots, they should only happen if nothing else is open.