Are the wheels coming off in Dallas?

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A week ago, the Dallas Stars were flying high. They were 11-3-0, tops in the Western Conference and pushing Pittsburgh for first overall in the NHL.

But that was last week.

Since then, the Stars have gone 0-3 — with losses to Pittsburgh, Detroit and Florida — while being outscored 14-3. This included last night’s humiliating 6-0 home defeat to the Panthers, which Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News called “this team’s worst yet.” (Subscription only)

“The honeymoon’s over,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “You start off 11-3, and teams are prepared to play you. They watch you a little bit closer. I thought Florida did a really good job of pre-scouting us. You can have systems given to you from God above, but if you don’t add work to those systems, you’re not going to win. We got severely outworked.”

Florida’s domination was apparent in the first period. Dallas spent almost the entire opening frame in its own end and the disparity in shot opportunities was shocking. (37-7: Florida put 14 on goal, had 16 blocked and seven missed the net.)

Some will say this is an aberration, that Dallas is more the team that went 11-3 than the one that’s gone 0-3. But some will counter the Stars are now showing their true colors — with evidence to back it up. Dallas has given up the most shots per game in the league (33.4) and the most power-play opportunities (4.9) per game…and one wonders when some of their key contributors will come back to earth.

— Jamie Benn is on pace to score 97 points this year; his career-high is 56.

— Adam Burish has eight points already; his career-high is 14.

— Eric Nystrom has five goals in 12 games as a Star; his career-high is 11.

There’s also the issue of Kari Lehtonen’s workload. He’s started 14 of Dallas’ 17 games and is fourth among all goalies in shots faced (eighth in minutes played.) He’s been in the league for seven years, but only has two seasons as a full-time starter: 2006-07 with Atlanta and last season in Dallas. The wear-down factor could be in play, especially for a guy whose conditioning has been questioned in the past.

So, are the wheels coming off in Dallas or not? Have your say in the comments section.

UPDATE: Another tough loss for the Stars — Burish will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. He joins Steve Ott and Alex Goligoski among Dallas’ walking wounded.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”