2010-11 NHL season preview: Dallas Stars

marccrawfordhaha.jpgLast season: (37-31-14, 88 points, 5th in Pacific Division,12th in Western Conference) Things have not been good for the Dallas Stars since they made a nice run to the Western Conference finals during the 2007-08 season. The team’s defense floundered so much without Sergei Zubov and coach Dave Tippett that it was hard to get too excited about their more explosive offense. Last season will undoubtedly be the end of an era as Mike Modano, Marty Turco (and possibly Jere Lehtinen) are long gone.

Head coach: Marc Crawford won a Stanley Cup, but he did so with ridiculous talent (seriously, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, Rob Blake and Ray Bourque played together on something other than an All-Star team?). Since then he’s been known more for ugly incidents (in Vancouver), losing young players (in Los Angeles) and his hair (everywhere). I’m not sold on Crawford as a head coach.

Key departures: F Mike Modano, G Marty Turco, F Jere Lehtinen. You can’t blame the Stars for letting 40-year-old Modano go and Turco needed to leave, too, while Lehtinen probably won’t play in the NHL next season. There’s only so much room for nostalgia in a salary-cap world.

Key arrivals: G Andrew Raycroft, F Adam Burish. The Stars are restricted by their messy ownership situation, which explains why they signed a journeyman backup in Raycroft and a tough player (but frequent healthy scratch) in Burish. You could probably consider Kari Lehtonen a near-new-arrival too, though.

Thumbnail image for Lehtonen.jpgUnder pressure: Lehtonen needs to stay healthy and put together the type of season people have been hoping for since the Thrashers made him a No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft. It’s not even the regular season yet and he is already struggling with groin problems, so he’s off to a bad (but sadly typical) start.

Protecting the house: Don’t get me wrong, Lehtonen shows flashes of brilliance. He’s a big, talented goalie who probably still leaves many scouts swooning on a game-by-game basis. It’s just that those appearances are depressingly seldom and trusting him to stay healthy is risky at best. If the Stars think Andrew Raycroft is going to get it done, then Stars fans should be very, very worried (note: the same goes for Brent Krahn).

Stephane Robidas is a rugged, likable defenseman but isn’t really an ideal No.1. Nicklas Grossman is a solid, stay-at-home type while Mark Fistric and Trevor Daley have some ability too. Yet let’s not avoid the obvious: this isn’t the kind of defense that wins divisions, let alone championships. At some point, GM Joe Nieuwendyk needs to add some security to this porous group.

Thumbnail image for brichardstrendingup.jpgTop line we’d like to see: James Neal-Brad Richards-Loui Eriksson. Neal brings the rugged power forward element, Richards is one of the league’s most gifted passers and Eriksson is one of its most underrated finishers. This trio has a little of everything, really.

Oh captain, my captain: Brenden Morrow hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee, but he’s still a rugged, heart-and-soul player who wrestled the captaincy from Mike Modano. Who knows if he’ll get his game back, but he’s still the right choice for captain.

Street fighting man: Krys Barch is enough of a fighter that Cam Janssen made a fight date with him on Twitter. Sometimes he’s more of a punch absorber than a fighter, but someone has to answer for Steve Ott’s big mouth.

Best-case scenario: Kari Lehtonen stays healthy and provides the Stars with stable, sometimes splendid goaltending. Their defense scraps and survives. Financial inspiration helps Richards match his 91-point output. A second year removed from knee surgery helps Morrow bounce back, which also enhances Mike Ribeiro’s game. The Stars score enough to cover up other blemishes and they take advantage of a weakened division to steal the second spot in the Pacific and make a respectable run to the second round of the playoffs.

Worst-case scenario: Lehtonen falls apart and Raycroft gets shredded behind an awful defense. Morrow never recovers from his injuries while Ribeiro sulks and is traded for draft picks. Richards cannot match his output from last season while Neal regresses. The Stars end up in the 10-12th range in the West so they don’t get a top pick and Crawford keeps his job.

Keeping it real: For a team that produces so much negativity, the Stars have plenty of firepower. Richards, Ribeiro, Morrow, Neal, Eriksson and even Ott can produce some nice offense. The problem is in their own end, where their coach, defense and injury-prone goalie all provide question marks at best. The Stars are likely to be in fourth or fifth place in the Pacific. Honestly, after years of being competitive and therefore settling for mediocre draft picks, maybe Dallas would be better off if they take their lumps during the season.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Stars get a 2. There are just too many strong points in the ‘cons’ column for the team’s notable pluses to produce much optimism. The Ducks have better top-end forwards and a more stable goalie, the Coyotes can protect their goalie with greater efficiency and the other California teams are just flat-out better. A playoff berth would be overachieving for this bunch, but again, they do have some talent.

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    U.S. women end drought, beat Canada for Olympic gold in a shootout

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    GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The Americans’ gold medal drought in women’s hockey is finally over. They needed the first shootout in an Olympic women’s final to do it, too.

    Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored a dazzling, triple-deke goal in the sixth round of a shootout thriller and Maddie Rooney stuffed the last two Canadians to wrap up a 3-2 victory over archrival Canada on Thursday.

    The Americans piled over the boards, throwing gloves in the air before huddling and hugging on the ice – 20 years after the women’s last gold medal in women’s hockey and 20 years to the day after he men’s famous ”Miracle on Ice” victory over the Russians in group play at Lake Placid.

    ”I can’t put it into words,” defenseman Kacey Bellamy said. ”This whole year is for everyone that came before us. This is for Julie Chu (former USA team captain) and for all our families at home, the schools that we went to, everyone supporting us.”

    Lamoureux-Davidson’s shootout goal was the talk of the game. She feinted a wrist shot, then drew Szabados out of the net by faking a backhand and came back to slide the puck past Szabados’ outstretched leg into the open net for the clinching score.

    Gigi Marvin and Amanda Kessel also scored in the shootout, another nail-biter ending four years after Canada won its fourth-straight gold medal in Sochi after rallying to stun the Americans in overtime.

    Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied it up with a breakaway with 6:21 left in regulation . Hilary Knight also had a goal, but Rooney was spectacular, making 29 saves for the win. The 20-year-old goalie stopped the last two Canadian shooters in the shootout in Brianne Jenner and then Meghan Agosta on her second attempt.

    It was sweet redemption for the 10 Americans who watched the Canadians snatch gold away in Sochi. Not only did the Americans end the Canadians’ stranglehold on Olympic gold, they ended a skid of five straight against their rival coming into this game, including a 2-1 loss in the tournament a week ago.

    ”It is everything for our country,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. ”I am just so thankful for the outcome. It was a thrilling final. It was unreal.”

    Marie-Philip Poulin and Haley Irwin each scored goals for Canada. Agosta and Melodie Daoust scored in the shootout.

    The Canadians wept on the ice as they accepted their silver medals. Jocelyne Larocque took hers off immediately and held it in her hands as the Americans settled in to accept gold.

    ”It’s just hard,” she said. ”You work so hard. We wanted gold but didn’t get it.”

    Added Canada coach Laura Schuler: ”There’s not a lot of words that can describe how you feel. It was a great game of hockey. It’s what we expected: back and forth hockey.”

    The Americans had dominated the women’s game in non-Olympic years, winning the last four and eight of the last 10 world championships, including a 3-2 overtime victory over Canada last spring.

    It only made the lack of gold at the Olympics all the more noticeable, and Canada has been in their way since losing the inaugural gold in Nagano in 1998. Canada had won 24 straight Olympic games to go along with those four consecutive gold medals – a streak of success in a women’s team sport second only to the U.S. basketball team’s current streak of six straight gold.

    This was the eighth time these North American rivals had met in the Olympics and the fifth with gold on the line. None of the previous seven was decided by more than two goals.

    U.S. coach Robb Stauber went with Rooney in net for the biggest game of her career – the goalie for each of the three wins against Canada last fall during a pre-Olympic exhibition tour.

    Canada had Shannon Szabados in goal for her third Olympic gold medal game, and her teammates made her job very easy by keeping the puck in front of Rooney for most of the first period by dictating play. The Americans couldn’t use their speed or get organized even with two power plays until Sarah Nurse went in the box for interference late in the period.

    Knight gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead with 25.4 seconds left in the first, redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin through Szabados’ pads to give the Americans a jolt of energy.

    That lasted only 2 minutes into the second when Irwin tipped a midair pass from Blayre Turnbull over Rooney’s left leg for Canada. And when Morin lost the puck, Melodie Daoust grabbed it and passed to Meghan Agosta who hit Poulin for the wrister into the left side of the net at 6:55 for a 2-1 lead.

    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    The Buzzer: Miller steals one for Ducks, Vegas back in top spot

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    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    Player of the Night: Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks

    The Anaheim Ducks picked up a huge win on Wednesday night in their quest for a playoff spot and they have veteran goalie Ryan Miller to thank for it.

    They leaned on Miller to pretty much steal their 2-0 game against the Dallas Stars.

    He ended up stopping all 41 shots he faced, including 24 in the third period.

    It was during that third period where the Ducks were able to put the game away after killing a 5-on-3 power play that included a shorthanded goal from Ryan Getzlaf.

    The Ducks have now won four games in a row and are just one point back of the San Jose Sharks for second place in the Pacific Division.

    Vegas Back On Top

    You just can not stop the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Thanks to their dominant 7-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday the first-year team is back on top of the NHL standings with 84 points, moving one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    It was another balanced effort from the Vegas lineup as they received goals from seven different players, including William Karlsson who scored his 31st goal of the season.

    It is still amazing to think about the fact they only have 22 games remaining in the regular season and an expansion team is in a position to win the Presidents’ Trophy.

    Their 84 points is now the most ever by an expansion team. That number will continue to rise.

    Highlight of the Night

    The aforementioned Ryan Getzlaf shorthanded goal was quite the effort!

    Highlight of the Night Part 2

    Ryan Carpenter scores this slick between-the-legs goal to get Vegas rolling.

    Factoid of the Night

    Reilly Smith scored his 20th goal of the season for Vegas on Wednesday night and gives Vegas five 20-goal scorers. Not many expansion teams have done that. Of course, not many expansion teams have been capable of doing a lot of the things Vegas has accomplished this season.

    Scores

    Chicago Blackhawks 4, Ottawa Senators 3

    Anaheim Ducks 2, Dallas Stars 0

    Vegas Golden Knights 7, Calgary Flames 3

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    Trade: Kings get Rieder, Wedgewood from Coyotes for Kuemper

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    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    With the trade deadline inching closer the Los Angeles Kings made their second trade in as many weeks on Wednesday evening.

    Let us take a look at the deal!

    The trade: The Kings acquire Tobias Rieder and Scott Wedgewood from the Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper. Arizona is also retaining 15 percent of Rieder’s salary. He will be a restricted free agent after this season.

    Why the Kings are making this trade: Let’s check in with Kings general manager Rob Blake for his take on the deal.

    “We continue to look for opportunities to improve our team speed and Tobias will bring that dynamic to our club.”

    Okay, that’s actually pretty important. A few days ago I wrote about how the Kings needed to hit the reset button on how they play because the league seems to have passed them by. They are not overly skilled. They do not have a ton of speed. They could use more in both areas.

    Rieder, though having a really down year, could help improve that. He certainly improves the speed dynamic for the team and he seems to have the potential for a bounce back in Los Angeles because he is capable of more production than he has shown so far this season.

    Kuemper has been great in a backup role this season so it’s a little surprising to see the Kings make that swap, but Rieder is at least an interesting addition.

    Why the Coyotes are making this trade: That’s actually … a little bit of a mystery?

    One potential angle on it is that Antti Raanta is an unrestricted free agent after this season while Kuemper is signed for two more years at a pretty cheap salary cap hit. The Coyotes make it sound like they still plan on keeping Raanta, but if nothing else this provides them with a little bit of insurance in case they can’t.

    Here is Coyotes general manager John Chayka.

    “Darcy is a big, talented goaltender who is having an excellent year. You need great goaltending in this league in order to be successful and with Antti and Darcy, we are confident that we have an excellent tandem for the future.”

    Who won the trade? I like what it does for the Kings because they need someone like Rieder to step into their lineup. Someone fast, someone that still has the chance to score a bit more than they have shown this season. With Jonathan Quick locked in place for the foreseeable future Kuemper was never going to be anything more than a backup there so they did not really have to give up a significant piece.

    Did the Coyotes give up on Rieder too soon? We will see.

    [Related: Kings get Dion Phaneuf from Ottawa Senators]

    ————

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    U.S. women back looking for Olympic gold vs. archrival Canada

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    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — To three-time Olympian Hilary Knight, the thought of finally hoisting the gold medal means giving women’s hockey a big boost in the United States.

    How big?

    Huge.

    ”The U.S. wants to be No. 1 in everything, and I think we’ve all been raised as awesome competitors so at the end of the day we want a victory,” Knight said. ”We want to win, and that would be winning a gold medal.”

    That’s the only shade of medal that has eluded the Americans since 1998, the last time they won it all in Nagano when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut. They took home a disappointing bronze from Turin in 2006 and silver from the past two finals – no loss more crushing than in 2014 in Sochi when Canada rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win 3-2 in overtime.

    Now the Americans have their latest chance at Olympic gold (Wednesday, 11:10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) against their archrival in a showdown Thursday that will include Marie-Philip Poulin, whose two goals snatched gold from U.S. hands in Sochi. She is back again as Canada’s captain.

    ”For me, it’s been a fairy tale for the last Olympics,” Poulin said. ”But it’s in the past now. It’s a new Olympics, and we have to bring our best game and go from there.”

    This game once again features the only two nations ever to win Olympic gold.

    Nothing less than a fifth straight gold medal is expected in the country that created the sport, and the Canadians have won the past four Olympic gold-medal games. Only the United States in basketball has dominated a women’s team sport more thoroughly with its streak of six straight golds.

    The Canadians haven’t lost even a single Olympic game since the 1998 Nagano final won by the United States. Their streak stands at 24 consecutive games, including a 2-1 win over the United States to cap pool play a week ago. They’ve also won five straight over the Americans, including four exhibition victories in December prepping for the Olympics.

    ”Maybe I’m biased, but one of the best rivalries in sports and especially in our game,” said Canadian forward Emily Clark, who played college hockey at Wisconsin. ”So we obviously have a lot on the line, mostly pride. All of us are going to bring our best game.”

    Yet the Americans have owned the world championships, winning the last four and eight of the last 10. That has only made the U.S. drought at the Olympics all the more noticeable and makes this game even more special.

    ”It’s been something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little,” said U.S. forward Dani Cameranesi. ”So it means a lot, and to be here with this group of girls and to be with them all year has really been an honor.”

    The 10 Americans who lost the final in Sochi have left that game in the past. No need to waste energy dwelling on such a heartbreaker when the chance at history is at hand. Cameranesi is among 13 Americans on the roster at their first Olympics, so Sochi is just a game they may have watched on TV.

    ”We’re in South Korea, and it’s 2018 and you want a different result,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said . ”They’ve put a lot of energy and focus into transforming things that they needed to get better at, and that’s now. You drop the puck, see what happens.”

    When the Americans and Canadians play, it’s essentially a heavyweight bout even if nobody drops the gloves.

    ”Every single time we play them, it’s a big game,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. ”You know the crowds there, people. There’s always pressure every single time when you represent your country and you play best on best competition. I think it’s something that we’re used to.”

    Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker