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After flurry of moves, questions remain about Stars’ blue line

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The Dallas Stars are in go-for-it mode.

Of that, there can be no debate, after GM Jim Nill hired Ken Hitchock as head coach, traded for and signed goalie Ben Bishop, traded for defenseman Marc Methot, then added forwards Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal in free agency.

Combine those new additions with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg, and expectations will be rightfully high next season.

Certainly, with all that talent, scoring goals shouldn’t be an issue in Big D.

Defensively, though, the Stars will not only need to be better, they’ll need to be much better. In 2016-17, they had the NHL’s second-highest goals-against average (3.17). Only the dreadful Avalanche got scored on more (3.37).

Hence, the Hitchcock hiring and the Bishop signing. The former knows how to structure a team to defend. The latter has a .919 career save percentage.

But in terms of importance, don’t sleep on the Methot acquisition. Next season, Nill expects the 32-year-old to pair with Klingberg, in the same way that Methot paired with Erik Karlsson in Ottawa.

“Marc has proven to be a capable and steady defenseman that can play well with an offensive-minded partner, and he will add a tremendous amount of leadership and experience to our blue line,” Nill said, per the Dallas Morning News.

Of course, even if Klingberg and Methot strike a good balance, there are two other pairings to worry about. Perhaps Dan Hamhuis could skate with Julius Honka: one steady veteran with a more offensive-minded youngster. Then put Esa Lindell with Stephen Johns.

In theory, it could work.

In theory.

Dallas learned last year that a plan doesn’t always come together. The Stars entered the season with Stanley Cup aspirations, only for almost everything to go wrong. When it was over, they’d gone from the best record in the Western Conference to missing the playoffs by 15 points.

Though the goaltending took much of the blame for all the losing, the defense was a real issue. Last summer, the Stars bid good-bye to Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers, a couple of top-four guys. In response, Hamhuis was brought in as a free agent; however, he struggled right off the bat.

It is not easy to fix a defense in today’s NHL. Just ask all the teams still trying to do it. To have success, much of the improvement has to come internally. So, yes, Methot will have to be a complement for Klingberg. But also, Lindell will have to avoid a sophomore slump, and Honka will have to prove he’s ready for the big time.

“We like what we have on paper, but in the end the goal for us is to be a contender every year, to get in the playoffs every year,” Nill said, per the Associated Press. “This game can humble you pretty quick, and it’s a tough league.”

The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

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Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

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The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row after Stephane Fiset (9) and Patrick Roy (11).

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.