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For Hitch, ‘Stars hockey is reckless energy — with proper positional play’


Ken Hitchcock knows his second tour of duty in Dallas won’t be the same as the first.

The game has changed, and the league has changed.

He said his old Stars teams won because they were positionally sound on defense, and good on the counter-attack. He said you can’t play like that anymore.

To be successful in the modern NHL — where speed and skill reign supreme — you need to win between the bluelines. You have to control the neutral zone.

Dallas certainly has the speed and skill. Now, it’s on Hitchcock to give it some structure.

“To me, Dallas Stars hockey is reckless energy — with proper positional play,” he said on Thursday, during his introductory presser as the club’s new head coach. “And I’ll bring that forward. But I don’t want to ever lose that reckless energy they had. I don’t want to see the guys lose that reckless enthusiasm they play with, because that’s what makes the team special.

“You never felt when you played Dallas that you were in control of anything. You always felt like you were right on the edge of getting steamrolled.”

That anecdote was curious, because it came from a question asking Hitch about Dallas’ perceived weakness. The veteran bench boss explained that, while coaching the Blues against the Stars in the ’15 playoffs, the goal was for St. Louis to match Dallas’ incredibly high energy level. If they did that, Hitch explained, the Blues’ structure would give them the edge.


If there was another major takeaway from today’s conference, it’s that Hitch and the club’s brass — GM Jim Nill, president Jim Lites — believe that the focus shouldn’t be on what the Stars did this season, but two rather two seasons ago. When their speed, energy, aggressiveness and explosiveness saw them win 50 regular season games and advance to the second playoff round.

As for this year?

Now, Hitch’s challenge is to take that “reckless energy” and provide it with shape. Organize it. One of the great failings in Lindy Ruff’s final year in charge is that, having built a gameplan off speed and creativity, players started to go rouge when things weren’t going their way.

“We had some frustrated players who, instead of trying to stay with it and trying to play a 200-foot game, it became more of an individual try,” Ruff said just prior to his dismissal, per the Morning-News. “And those individual tries a lot of times turned into opportunities for the opposition.”

You can expect Hitch to try and eradicate those issues, and quickly. One of the more intriguing moments of today’s presser is when he told the players in attendance — Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Dan Hamhuis — there will be some uncomfortable times ahead, as he inevitably drills his vision for structure, systems play and strategy.

“This is not going to be fun everyday,” Hitchcock said. “But forming a partnership with you guys is more important than anything.”


— Hitchcock wasn’t asked about goaltending, a curious development given how profound a role netminding played in his departure from St. Louis and, as has been well documented, how bad the goaltending has been in Dallas over the last two years.

— Nill confirmed that Hitchcock has a multi-year deal in place with the Stars. When that contract is up, he has another deal in place to remain with the club as a consultant.

— Hitchcock said the club will begin interviewing assistant coaches next week. Longtime Ruff assistant James Patrick was let go and the other assistant from last year, Curt Fraser, will be allowed to interview with Hitch.

— Lites did make mention that part of the reason for the hire was Hitchcock’s traditionally strong special teams. They were a nightmare in Dallas last year (20th on the power play, 30th on the penalty kill).

Unhappy reunion: Red Wings chase Flyers’ Mrazek

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For a while, it looked like Petr Mrazek would enjoy a strong showing in his return to Detroit against his former teammates in the Red Wings.

Things went sideways pretty fast, which sadly has been a growing trend for the struggling Philadelphia Flyers goalie. Mrazek was given the hook halfway through Tuesday’s game against the Red Wings after allowing three goals in about four minutes.

It’s the second time in three games that Mrazek’s been pulled in favor of Alex Lyon. The Flyers now face a 3-1 deficit in the third period; you can see if they manage to rally on NBCSN or via this live stream.

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, Evgeny Svechnikov’s first NHL goal made it 3-1, and that was the last straw. Mrazek actually made a nice stop earlier in the sequence, yet even then, he looked a bit scrambly before Svechnikov ended up scoring.

Luke Glendening‘s shorthanded goal had to sting quite a bit, too:

Dylan Larkin scored the other Detroit goal during that burst, breaking a lengthy scoring slump.

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Mrazek was already struggling, sporting an unsightly .867 save percentage in March. Flyers GM Ron Hextall made a logical move in acquiring Mrazek from the Red Wings, but it just doesn’t seem to be working out in Philly, at least at the moment.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ovechkin passes Kurri for 19th all-time with goal 602


It’s unclear if Alex Ovechkin will best the next great Finnish sniper for the Maurice Richard Trophy, but he passed one of the best Finnish scorers ever in the all-time goal rankings on Tuesday.

With the 602nd goal of his already-impressive career, Ovechkin now sits alone at 19th place in NHL history, breaking a tie with Wayne Gretzky’s former partner-in-crime Jari Kurri. It says a lot about Ovechkin’s sniping that he reached 602 in game 994 of his career, while Kurri finished with 601 goals in 1,251 regular-season games.

Ovechkin also broke a tie with Patrik Laine for the goals lead in 2017-18, at least for now (both Ovechkin and Laine can beef up their stats as tonight goes along).

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Ovechkin’s 602nd goal is also his 44th of the season, and it’s very much from “his office.”

Keeping up with the Finnish theme, take a look at how many goals Ovechkin needs to score to catch Teemu Selanne at 11th place:

11. Selanne: 684 goals.
12. Luc Robitaille: 668
13. Brendan Shanahan: 656
14. Dave Andreychuk: 640
15 (tied). Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic: 625
17. Bobby Hull: 610
18. Dino Ciccarelli: 608
19. Ovechkin: 602

If he closes out 2017-18 with a burst, Ovechkin could conceivably push Ciccarelli or even Hull. It would be tough to imagine Ovechkin reaching Robitaille through 2018-19, but either way, the Capitals superstar has a chance to rocket up the ranks in little time.

[Can Ovechkin catch Gretzky’s 894 goals?]

After their respective games tonight, both the Capitals and Jets have nine more games remaining before the playoffs begin. It should be an entertaining race to the Richard, and maybe another 50-goal season if Ovechkin really heats up.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Detroit Red Wings

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Philadelphia Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

Jordan WealValtteri FilppulaWayne Simmonds

Jori LehteraScott Laughton — Matt Read

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Travis Sanheim — Andrew MacDonald

Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Petr Mrazek

[Flyers – Red Wings preview]

Detroit Red Wings

Tyler BertuzziHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Darren HelmDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha

Justin AbdelkaderFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Evgeny Svechnikov — Luke GlendeningMartin Frk

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Jimmy Howard

Derick Brassard trying to fit in, not be ‘savior’ with Penguins

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When Derick Brassard hits the ice for his first shift Tuesday night against the New York Islanders, he’ll be involved in his 10th game as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since coming over from the Ottawa Senators in that wild three-team deal just before the NHL trade deadline last month, the 30-year-old center has a goal and four points.

Any player who goes from a lottery team to a contender around the trade deadline has pressure on them. Their new team gave up assets in hopes that they were either the last piece of a championship puzzle or someone who can fill a role and strengthen an area. In Brassard’s case, he was brought over to take over third-line center duties behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins had options, like Riley Sheahan, but were looking for an upgrade in order to bolster their bottom six.

Luckily for Brassard, he joined a team that’s won the last two Stanley Cups and has a locker room full of stars who have mantles full of various accomplishments. The Penguins are lined up for another Cup run, and these last few weeks have given him an opportunity to blend into a lineup that’s looking for a three-peat.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

“I know it’s going to take a little time. I feel like I have a lot more to give. It’s a process,” Brassard said last week after a morning skate at Madison Square Garden. “I’m going to take some time here and try and make sure I’m going into the playoffs with my ‘A’ game.”

Brassard admitted he’s still not at a full comfort level since the trade, but that will take time. He’s been playing mostly with Phil Kessel on one of his wings as Bryan Rust, Riley Sheahan and Conor Sheary have seen time on the other side at even strength. That’s the good fortune that head coach Mike Sullivan has — he has that option to mix and match players given the lineup he’s working with.

Brassard knows his role behind Crosby and Malkin, and that’s alleviated any pressure of trying to do too much when it’s time to hop over the boards.

“For me, playing behind those two guys I don’t try to put any pressure on myself,” he said. “I just try to be myself. This group proved that the last two years. I’m not here to be a savior. I’m just going to try and play my game and be myself.”

While on the ice he’s still finding his way, in the dressing room it’s been a smooth transition with plenty of familiarity.

• He was teammates with Carl Hagelin and Matt Hunwick with the New York Rangers, who also employed Sullivan as an assistant while Brassard was there.

• He played against Sidney Crosby in junior hockey.

• In each of the last four postseasons, his previous two teams — the Rangers and Senators — have met the Penguins and gone 2-2 against them .

Having been eliminated by the eventual champions the last two seasons, Brassard is hoping for a different ending this time around.

“It’s nice to be on this side,” he said. “It’s a really good team and I have a chance to do something special.”


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.