Martin Hanzal

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Dallas Stars head coach fed up with injury rigmarole

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Now here’s a trend we could all get behind.

Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock told members of the media on Tuesday that he wants to “stop the dance” when it comes to revealing information about his injured players.

Via Marc Antoine Godin of The Athletic:

“I think we collectively hate playing the game. What I mean by that is we say ‘upper body,’ then you go on the phone, and then you look up things or you go to the doctors, find out what part of the upper body. We try to make your work easier, quite frankly, and so we just don’t like going through the dance.

“It’s just easy to tell you what it is and let’s move forward. It’s just the whole game. It’s an injury, and within two hours after we tell you it’s ‘upper body,’ you know exactly what it is, so why not just tell you? And the players don’t go out and say, ‘He has a broken left pinky and we’re going to go after the pinky.’ Nobody thinks like that. Our feeling is just tell them what the injury is and move it forward and just stop the dance.”

Perhaps Hitchcock, who has been coaching in the NHL since 1995, is just tired of the same old rigmarole he’s dealt with for the past 20-plus years. Reporters everywhere are too.

It’s also likely that most fans would also appreciate a higher level of transparency from the team they spend hundreds on for tickets each night.

Right, Montreal?

Given the mayhem that has ensued for the Canadiens over the status of Carey Price’s lower body, perhaps more teams will alleviate future headaches before they set in by adopting this route.

What is certain is that hockey scribes everywhere just became the biggest Hitchcock fans.

For now, if you’re looking for some of the Stars’ state secrets, they can be had on their official Twitter account:


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

PHT Morning Skate: Top 5 moments from Auston Matthews’ first 100 NHL games

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

–The Dallas Stars have been hit hard by injuries lately. On Monday, they announced that Marc Methot and Martin Hanzal would both miss some time. Also, Kari Lehtonen is away from the team after he and his wife welcomed a baby boy into the world. (Wrongsideoftheredline.com)

Jay Bouwmeester, who has been out since the third day of training camp, is expected to return to St. Louis’ lineup tonight. “It’s been a long time, especially at the start of the year when you miss training camp. I’m excited and hopefully and I’ll just jump in and not interfere with what’s going on here.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

–Sabres coach Phil Housley is trying to find solutions to help his team get back on track. Right now that includes mixing up the lines. Jack Eichel finds himself with Zegmus Girgensons and Jason Pominville, which seems like a bit of a demotion. (Buffalohockeybeat)

–Anton Rodin’s time with the Vancouver Canucks has officially come to an end, as he’s been placed on waivers with the purpose of terminating his contract. “Anton asked to be released from his contract,” said Jim Benning. “We value the skill and depth he adds to our team but ultimately it was important to respect Anton’s request to move on.” (Vancourier.com)

–Yes, the Edmonton Oilers are struggling this season. Some people want to blame Connor McDavid for that, but according to NHLNumbers.com, GM Peter Chiarelli should be the one taking the heat. (NHLNumbers.com)

–The swap Mike Cammalleri-for-Jussi Jokinen swap between the Kings and Oilers was nothing more than a weak attempt for both teams to try to get back on track. Don’t expect the move to help either side. (Fanragsports.com)

–Hall-of-famers Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were honored prior to the game between the Ducks and Panthers on Sunday night. “It was just a perfect way to end a great week and a half,” Kariya said. “Just the most memorable time, certainly in my life and both of our lives. To spend it with Teemu and his family, it was icing on the cake. I’ll always remember the ovation.” (OC Register)

–Like all of us, Jets winger Patrik Laine is impressed by Selanne’s 76-goal rookie record he set in 1993. Laine can’t imagine anyone will ever touch that one. “Thirty-six, that was hard,” Laine said of his own rookie total. “So imagine if I had to score 40 more on top of the 36 I scored. I would say it’s pretty hard.” (NHL.com)

–Jets prospect Jack Roslovic is ripping it up in the AHL, but Winnipeg shouldn’t recall him yet. He needs more time to grow in the minors. (Jetsnation.ca)

–Preds forward Craig Smith had been doing all the right things on paper last season, he just couldn’t buy a goal for long stretches. Now, Smith’s hard work has paid off, as he’s finally starting to produce with a little more regularity. (Ontheforecheck.com)

–The pairing of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy has worked out well for Boston because there’s a terrific teacher and a willing student. What does Chara like best about his defense partner? “That he’s quickly able to adapt to our system and our game. We saw it in the playoffs [last season]. He stepped in and gave us a contribution right away. He didn’t seem to be nervous, or caught in a situation where he’d be distracted.” (ESPN.com)

–Filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason believes Willie O’Ree (first black player to play in the NHL) and Herb Carnegie (Jean Beliveau said that he was one of the best players to never play in the NHL) should both be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. (Colorofhockey.com)

–Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the top prospect available for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. How we he help every one of the struggling teams in the NHL? The Hockey News breaks it down for you. (The Hockey News)

–Canadiens goaltender Antti Niemi is already on his third team this season. Since he’s been on the move a lot, he’s decided to go with the plain white goalie mask. He should embrace the simple mask. (Puckjunk.com)

–How can the NHL spice up some of the stale rivalries in the league? Scottywazz.com believes that handing out a trophy could help. (Scottywazz.com)

Auston Matthews suited up in his 100th NHL game, so The Score breaks down the top 5 moments from his young career. To no ones surprise, the top moment came in his first game. (The Score)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Breaking down Stars’ bumpy start after ‘winning another offseason’

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New head coach, new starting goalie, same old problems?

The Dallas Stars distinguished themselves by making waves during the offseason – again – yet they find themselves in a 1-3-0 hole after falling 4-1 to the Nashville Predators on Thursday.

When it comes to righting the ship, there’s good news and bad news.

While Jamie Benn provides the expected “not good enough” to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, it’s not surprising that head coach Ken Hitchcock got to the heart of the matter: they’ve been making opposing goalies look like stars so far.

That could be read as “bad bounces” shorthand, and you know what? Hitchcock is correct.

Things that should change over time

With a 2.94 shooting percentage at 5-on-5, the Stars only have better shooting luck so far than the remarkably unlucky Montreal Canadiens.

It’s also worth noting that they haven’t really been able to fully deploy their new weapons. Ben Bishop dealt with a freak injury when his goalie mask didn’t provide enough protection, while Martin Hanzal‘s off to a rough start thanks to health and possibly supplemental discipline for that hit on Yannick Weber.

(Granted, if the Stars didn’t realize that Hanzal’s had a maddening history of injuries, that’s also on them.)

The Stars can’t blame a faulty power play for their troubles, however. They’ve converted on 33.3 percent of their opportunities (4 for 12), tying the Toronto Maple Leafs for the most efficient unit.

To some extent, that scoring issue is likely to work itself out.

Chance to mix things up

Still, one cannot help but wonder if Hitchcock might want to spread the wealth as far as linemates go.

So far, Alex Radulov is spending almost every minute on a top-heavy line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. That’s fun for fantasy hockey nerds, but if the Stars are struggling to score at even-strength, maybe they need to move one or more of those big names around?

These are the Stars’ lines if Hanzal plays, via Left Wing Lock:

Benn – Seguin – Radulov

Remi ElieJason SpezzaBrett Ritchie

Mattias Janmark – Hanzal – Devin Shore

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaTyler Pitlick

One option that stands out is that the Stars have some room to maneuver with as far as centers go. Faksa could conceivably be an option on the third line, possibly allowing Spezza to go to a wing. Failing that, Ritchie might be an option on the top trio if Hitchcock wanted to experiment with pairings in Spezza – Radulov and Benn – Seguin.

None of this needs to happen ASAP, and perhaps the current alignments are the best ones.

The positive side of early-season uncertainty is getting the opportunity to experiment, though.

The road ahead

“Inconsistent” might be a word that gets thrown around in part because of a schedule with some ups and downs.

The Stars play three of four and four of their next six games at home, so that’s an opportunity to get things on track (so far they’ve played two games at home and two on the road).

They’ll need to brace themselves, as they’ll begin a five-game road trip on Oct. 24.

***

The Stars have tied their opponents in shots on goal once and won the shots battle three times this season. On two occasions, they generated a significant differential. There are plenty of signs that this team is experiencing bad luck and should start to see things go their way.

(Tyler Seguin leads the NHL with 29 SOG, but only has two goals so far. As just one example.)

There’s a fine line between things working out over time and “making your own bounces,” so Hitchcock should use these early challenges as learning opportunities.

Even for himself.

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.

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Lightning’s Koekkoek, Predators’ Girard shine on night of firsts

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Maybe Thursday will see other patterns form, but one theme is young NHL defensemen scoring their first goals, and in many ways helping their teams secure wins.

Samuel Girard, 19, is already distinguishing himself with a Nashville Predators team suffering from some problematic injuries on defense. (That situation might get worse if Yannick Weber misses extended time thanks to this hit by Dallas Stars center Martin Hanzal.)

Girard already had an assist in his debut, but Thursday was a real treat as his family was on hand; Girard scored the game-tying goal and picked up a primary helper on the game-winner as the Predators beat the Dallas Stars 4-1.

P.K. Subban looked almost as excited as Girard on that goal:

Girard isn’t a slam-dunk for “best night for a defenseman who scored his first goal,” though.

Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Slater Koekkoek didn’t just score the first goal of his NHL career, he actually scored two. This was the second, which ended up being the game-winner as the Bolts edged the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4:

Koekkoek, 23, had gone 42 regular-season games (and 10 playoff contests) without scoring that first tally, so this burst stands as a positive sign for Tampa Bay.

Finally, Ian McCoshen factored into the Florida Panthers’ 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues with his first-ever NHL goal. McCoshen, 22, got to this spot in his sixth contest at the NHL level:

Yep, this has been a pretty good night of firsts for NHL blueliners. If there are any more of note, this post will be updated.

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.

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Video: Martin Hanzal gets major for hit to head of Yannick Weber

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The Nashville Predators were able to storm back and claim a win in their home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers, but generally speaking, it feels like the 2017 Stanley Cup finalists are sleepwalking early in 2017-18.

Naturally, it doesn’t help that Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi are missing time. Those two defensemen would surely help the Predators in the transition game.

They might have lost another guy with some offensive skill on Thursday, as Yannick Weber was shaken up by a hit to the head by mountainous Dallas Stars center Martin Hanzal. Hanzal was not ejected from the game, however.

You can watch that hit, which drew an interference major, in the video above. Here it is in GIF form, too:

There are number of factors here.

Weber was clearly hit in the head, but was also reaching and there’s a significant size disparity in play. Perhaps those factors helped Hanzal avoid a game misconduct?

Opinions on the hit are divided, with some wanting an ejection:

And others wondering if it was a clean hit:

Plenty fall somewhere in the middle:

Either way, the absence of valuable defensemen was felt on that five-minute power play, as the Predators had trouble getting set on the man advantage. One of the better chances came for Dallas shorthanded.

To turn the knife in a bit, Jamie Benn scored the first period’s only goal on the power play.

Seeing Weber shaken up didn’t provide a wakeup call for the Predators. Maybe Peter Laviolette yelling at them regarding a poor power play might get them back on track?

Update: Maybe another Predators defenseman will emerge in this time of need? Samuel Girard, 19, scored the first NHL goal of his career and added an assist as Nashville turned things around for a 4-1 win.

More on that here.

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.

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