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Stars coach Lindy Ruff is not happy with the job he has done this season

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After being one of the NHL’s most exciting teams and winning the Central Division title a year ago, the Dallas Stars have to be considered one of the bigger disappointments through the first half of the 2016-17 season.

With 50 points in 50 games entering the All-Star break this weekend, the Stars find themselves three points out of a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and are on pace to finish with only 82 points on the season, a mark that would be a 27-point drop from a year ago.

Obviously, that is not good for a team that came into the season with what should have been Stanley Cup aspirations.

Following their 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night coach Lindy Ruff, who does not have a contract beyond this season, was asked if the team’s current record and their current big picture outlook makes him think about his job and the job he has done behind the bench this season.

Ruff admitted that he not only thinks about it every day, but that he is also not happy with the job he has done this season.

“I think about my job everyday,” said Ruff, via the Dallas Morning News.

“I think of ways to improve. I look at the special teams. That’s on me. Improving special teams. I don’t like where our penalty killing is at. we’ve worked on trying to change that. I am not happy with the job I’ve done. I understand we’ve gone through a lot of injuries, a lot of players shuffling around, but I assess my job everyday.”

He continued: “I think we’ve worked as hard as we could have possibly worked the past few days to win games. We finally got some breaks to go our way. We’ve talked about missed opportunities. We’ve talked  about the power plays opportunities we missed to win the previous game. We talked about the power play opportunity we missed on the Island to tie a hockey game with five minutes left. You have to set up those opportunities, but at the same time you have to win games. You have to produce. We can’t just talk about chances. This is a league you have to win. You have to win. There is only one thing, and you have to win. We’re sitting there close enough, but we’re coming out of the break we have to win. I don’t like our overtime, but again that is something I am responsible for.”

When it comes to the latter point, the Stars are only 2-10 this season in games that have been decided in overtime or a shootout after going 8-9 in such games a year ago. A similar winning percentage this season would give them an additional three or four wins in the standings and probably have them in a playoff position right now. It would still be a regression from where they were a season ago, but it would also probably change the perception of their season heading into the break a little bit as well.

Big picture though the problems for the Stars are easy to identify at this point. Injuries have played a significant role this season as several key players, including Jamie Benn (four games), Jason Spezza (seven games), Patrick Sharp (26 games), Ales Hemsky (49 games), Cody Eakin (32 games), Jiri Hudler (28 games) and Johnny Oduya (24 games) all missing significant time this season. They also have the same issues they’ve had for much of the past two seasons when it comes to goal prevention with a defense that has some holes and a goaltending situation that remains unsettled with big money going to both Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, while continuing to get below league average play from both of them. The issues on defense have only been made worse by a bit of a regression from John Klingberg. Put all of that together with the aforementioned injuries that have at times completely decimated their forwards and it should not be a surprise the team has fallen short of expectations.

 

Ekblad out again, this time with a sore neck

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It’s not concussion-related, Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe told reporters today — but defenseman Aaron Ekblad woke up this morning with a sore neck and will miss tonight’s game against Arizona.

Ekblad had only just returned to the lineup after missing four games with a concussion. He logged 18:14 in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Carolina.

And now he’s out again.

Certainly, the timing of Ekblad’s latest injury, not to mention the fact it’s a sore neck, will lead many to doubt Rowe’s assertion that it’s not concussion-related.

But Rowe said before the Hurricanes game that the club was being cautious with its 21-year-old star defenseman.

“We didn’t want to rush him back because he’s such a young guy,” said Rowe, per the Miami Herald. “With a concussion, we didn’t want to rush him back.”

Stars’ Janmark won’t play this season, and there’s a ‘question mark’ about next year

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In a season filled with injuries, one of the biggest Dallas suffered this season was Mattias Janmark‘s knee issue.

The 24-year-old Swede has missed the entire season thus far, but recently resumed skating and practicing with the club. That said, Janmark confirmed he won’t play this year — meaning he’ll miss the entire 82-game campaign.

And what’s more, he might miss games next season as well.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” GM Jim Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Losing his services was a big blow for Dallas. After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Janmark’s contract situation complicates things. He’s a pending RFA, currently in the last of a two-year, $1.6 million deal with an $733,750 cap hit. The Stars would (presumably) like to keep him, but the uncertainty regarding his health might made negotiations difficult.

Fehr injures hand, spotted in cast following Leafs debut

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Eric Fehr finally played his first game as a Maple Leaf on Wednesday night, suiting up for the first time since being acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.

It didn’t go especially well.

Fehr, who logged 10:44 TOI in a 5-2 win over Columbus, suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot in the third period and was seen afterward wearing a cast, per TSN.

According to the Toronto Sun, the 31-year-old forward confirmed he spent the night in hospital.

While a break or fracture might rule him out for the remainder of the season, it’s worth noting Fehr won’t be done entirely in Toronto. He’s in the second of a three-year, $6 million deal with a $2M cap hit. Prior to joining the Leafs he appeared in 52 games for the Pens, scoring six goals and 11 points while averaging just under 11 minutes a night.

He was also a regular in last year’s Stanley Cup run, scoring three times in 23 games.

Though his role decreased, Fehr was still frequently used by head coach Mike Sullivan — albeit in a more limited capacity. He is a good PK contributor, and can play both center and wing. Those were some of the attributes the Leafs were hoping Fehr could bring down the stretch and, should they make it, into the postseason.

He’s back: With 10 games left, Isles recall Halak

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The Isles are in full playoff push mode, and on Thursday made a move to bolster their chances.

Jaroslav Halak, the veteran netminder that’s been in AHL Bridgeport since early January, has been recalled ahead of New York’s crucial three-games-in-four-days stretch, the club announced.

It’s the latest in what’s been a tumultuous move for the 31-year-old. Halak opened the year as part of an uncomfortable three-goalie rotation — along with Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube — and was soon on the trading block after agent Allan Walsh criticized the setup on Twitter.

With no takers — and after then-head coach Jack Capuano called him out for his poor play — Halak was placed on waivers, and sent to the minors.

Halak has been really good in Bridgeport. He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, there’s a shot Halak could be making a start for the Isles soon.

As mentioned above, the club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in last night’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles head to Pittsburgh on Friday, then host the Bruins on Saturday, then host the Preds on Monday. The Boston game looms large because, after last night, New York found itself just two points back of the B’s for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Per Newsday, there’s a real chance Halak will face the Pens on Friday, which would open the door for Greiss to take on the Bruins the following day.