Jamie Benn, Ben Bishop

Stars move back ahead of Coyotes by beating Lightning


The Phoenix Coyotes’ grasp on the Western Conference’s final wild card spot didn’t last very long as the Dallas Stars took the lead back with an impressive 5-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.

The Stars opened things up with a 3-0 lead in the first period, as Jamie Benn was involved in all three opening goals (two goals, one assist) while Tyler Seguin collected one goal and one assist. The Lightning made things a little tense in the second period by bringing the deficit down to 3-2, but Dallas pulled away in the final frame.

Opportunities ahead

The Stars managed to shake off Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, continuing what’s generally been a hot streak since March 22. In that time, they’ve won six of their last eight games. They’ve been successful so far in their current five-game road trip, too, winning three of four before tomorrow’s game in Florida wraps that up.

Dallas can really distance itself during a three-game homestand before they face the Coyotes in Phoenix in a game that could very well decide a playoff spot.

A chance to pull away

The Stars are in a position to pull away altogether if they can stay on task.

Dallas now has 87 points on the season with five games left while Phoenix is seated at 86 standings points with four games remaining. That advantage is even greater since Dallas has some obvious tiebreaker advantages at the moment, including wins (38-36) and regulation/overtime wins (35-30).

In other words, the Stars are currently in control of things, but this battle for the West’s final spot has seen some dramatic swings both ways. Few would be surprised if there are a few more twists and turns, whether April 13’s closing game decides it all or not.

Here’s hoping 3-on-3 doesn’t degenerate into a boring ‘game of keep-away’

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Are coaches going to ruin 3-on-3 overtime?

It’s been the one, big worry since the NHL decided to change from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 as a way to reduce the number of shootouts.

Via TSN’s Bob McKenzie, here’s a quote from an anonymous coach (talking about 3-on-3 strategy) that won’t exactly quell that worry:

“Really, it’s a game of keep-away, that’s what it is and the longer you can keep it away from the other team, the more likely they’ll break down. So I say let’s slow it down and hold onto that puck for as long as we can.”

Now take that a step further and imagine there’s a team that’s really good at shootouts. If you were coaching that team, might you tell your players to rag the puck for as long as possible to try and get to the skills competition?

Granted, five minutes is a long time to rag the puck. Not sure any team could play “keep-away” that long. Plus, there will always be teams that aren’t very good at the shootout; theoretically, those teams should be more willing to take their chances in 3-on-3.

But just remember that more time and space doesn’t always lead to more goals. Look at international hockey, which is played on a bigger ice surface. Canada won gold in Sochi by beating Latvia, 2-1, the United States, 1-0, and Sweden, 3-0. It was hardly firewagon hockey.

While nobody’s quite ready to suggest that 3-on-3 will actually lead to more shootouts, it will be interesting to see how things evolve, and if there are any unintended consequences.

“I don’t know if anyone’s figured it out completely yet,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said Saturday after losing in 3-on-3 overtime to Vancouver.

“The big thing is, you want to control the puck as much as you can. It’s 3-on-3, so there’s lots of room and space out there. You don’t need to give it away. I think it’s smart to just wait, take your time, and wait for a good opportunity.”

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.