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What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

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The Dallas Stars are the worst defensive team in the NHL.

That’s just a fact. The Stars are surrendering 3.40 goals per game, and no team has a higher goals-against than that. Philadelphia’s next at 3.20, followed by Arizona at 3.14. The best is San Jose at 2.08.

Last night, the Stars fell 6-2 in Pittsburgh. With the loss, their record dropped to 9-10-6. They are now one point back of Nashville for the final wild-card spot, and the Predators have three games in hand.

What has happened to last year’s Stars?

Well, it would be easy to point at Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen and blame the goalies for everything. Those two haven’t been great this season, and that’s an understatement. Niemi has a .902 save percentage; Lehtonen’s is .885. For all the good work Jim Nill has done as general manager, he has botched the one position a GM absolutely cannot botch.

But outside of Dallas, far too little attention has been paid to the big changes in another part of the Stars’ lineup. This offseason, Alex Goligoski left for Arizona and Jason Demers signed in Florida. Those two veteran defensemen played the first- and fourth-most minutes for the Stars last season, and a team does not lose a pair of top-four defenseman and just keep going like nothing happened.

The Stars did sign Dan Hamhuis in free agency, but he’s struggled in a new setting. John Klingberg, their top defender, has also had a tough start.

Last night, with Johnny Oduya out injured, the Stars were forced to play the defending Stanley Cup champs with three rookies on defense: Stephen Johns, Esa Lindell, and Julius HonkaThe other three were Klingberg, Hamhuis, and Jamie Oleksiak, the latter of whom has played fewer than 100 NHL games. Patrik Nemeth was a healthy scratch. He’s inexperienced too. 

“We all take pride in here, and that’s just not good enough. It’s frustrating,” said forward Tyler Seguin, per the Stars’ website. “We have to dig deep. We’re not digging deep enough right now. From our best players to everybody, we have to dig deeper, especially in those big moments and find ways to win hockey games.”

Seguin is still producing on offense, with 25 points in 25 games. But he was a minus-2 against the Penguins, and he’s a minus-11 overall. Meanwhile, the Stars’ other top center, Jason Spezza, is a team-worst minus-15; Klingberg is minus-10; captain Jamie Benn is minus-7; and so is Patrick Sharp.

Now, plus-minus can be a misleading stat. On bad teams, good players often have big negatives.

But that’s the thing. It happens on bad teams, and the Stars are not supposed to be a bad team. They are supposed to be Stanley Cup contenders.

So far this season, everything about them says bad team. Bad defensive numbers. Bad goaltending. Bad penalty killing. Bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi, so it’s not bad luck.

Yes, they’ve had injuries. So have lots of teams. The Stars will still have major questions in goal and on the back end when they get healthy.

The big question right now is whether they can recover and still make the playoffs. Because they’re starting to dig a hole, and if it gets much deeper, they’re going to get buried.

Speaking of digging holes, the Stars play the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

Two bad teams, going at it.

Bad, until they prove otherwise.

Related: Colorado’s core is under heavy scrutiny, yet again

Report: ‘Hawks could add Ulf Samuelsson to coaching staff

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The Chicago Blackhawks are searching for an assistant coach, and Ulf Samuelsson might just be their guy.

According to the Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, Samuelsson is the “top candidate” to replace Mike Kitchen, who was fired after the ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators in the opening round the playoffs.

The obvious connection here, is that Samuelsson and head coach Joel Quenneville were teammates with the Hartford Whalers back in the 1980s.

Samuelsson, 53, was an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes from 2006 to 2011 and he was an assistant with the New York Rangers from 2013 to 2016. Last season,  he served as the head coach of Carolina’s farm team, the Charlotte Checkers.

He led the Checkers to a 39-29-8 record during the 2016-17 AHL campaign.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Monday, May 22

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Will the Nashville Predators become the first team to clinch a berth in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final? We’ll find out tonight.

The Preds were able to push the Ducks to the brink of elimination after their impressive win in Game 5 on Saturday night.

Nashville was able to get the job done without centers Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher. We know Johansen will be out for Game 6, but maybe Fisher can give them a boost.

Here’s what you need to know:

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (Preds lead 3-2)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

Check out the highlights from Nashville’s 3-1 win in Game 5

Related:

Ducks will be without Eaves and Rakell in Game 6

Pontus Aberg ‘face planted’ before scoring game-winning goal in Game 6

PHT Morning Skate: Is it time for the Wild to blow up their roster?

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–Former NHL head coach Don Cherry weighed in on Preds fans throwing ducks on the ice during games, and he’s not a fan. “I know there’s duck hunters and all that, that’s OK, duck hunters, they have an even chance. And you’re gonna say, ‘Well yeah, Cherry, you had the octopus.’ Okay, but that octopus, we got it from a fish market, it was already dead.” (Sportsnet)

Mats Zuccarello was driving around in Norway when he noticed a kid shooting pucks into a net. The Rangers forward pulled over and made sure to have a good chat with the youngster. (New York Daily News)

–Team USA may have failed to pick up a medal at the World Hockey Championship (again), but with plenty of young talent on the roster, the future appears to be bright for the program. It’s too bad the NHL is deciding not to go to the Olympics though. (New York Post)

–The Pittsburgh Penguins annihilated the Ottawa Senators, 7-0, last night. You can see each one of those goals by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–To drum up interest in the Golden Knights, the team organized a “Sticks for Kids” street hockey clinic over the weekend, and over 1500 kids left there with a stick and a ball. “We want to get them started learning the game at a young age. It’s a process, from putting a stick in their hands to learning to skate to then learning to play. We want to hit all demographics. We want everyone in Las Vegas to feel involved and welcomed. We don’t want it to be an afterthought for anyone.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

–The Minnesota Wild got off to a great start this season, but they faded down the stretch and were eventually bounced in the opening round of the playoffs. Now, some people in Minnesota are wondering if it’s time for the Wild to blow things up and start from scratch. It would allow them to draft a high-end offensive talent, but is it the right approach? (Minneapolis StarTribune)

–After their Game 5 win in Anaheim, the Predators were greeted at the local airport by over 1000 fans. It was a pretty wild scene:

Former Blackhawks defenseman Bill White dies at 77

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Bill White, who played 604 career regular season games in the National Hockey League, has passed away, the Chicago Blackhawks announced Sunday.

He was 77 years old.

More from the Blackhawks:

White spent seven years in the minors before the National Hockey League grew from six to 12 teams in 1967. When the expansion Los Angeles Kings gained his rights, he immediately earned acclaim as an extraordinary stay-at-home defenseman. During the 1969-70 season, Pat Stapleton of the Blackhawks incurred an injury. With his club a serious contender, General Manager Tommy Ivan acquired White from the Kings. When Stapleton returned, he and White formed one of the NHL’s finest blue-line tandems, the former expertly generating offense and the latter adept at laying back.

He scored 50 goals and 265 points during his time in the league.

In addition to playing for the Kings and Blackhawks, White was also a member of Canada’s 1972 Summit Series team, which defeated the Soviet Union in an epic eight-game series.

“A younger generation might not understand what we went through,” White once told the Toronto Sun. “I’m still asked about playing in the series at least twice a week.”