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Three questions facing Dallas Stars

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Dallas Stars.

For even more on the Stars, read today’s posts:

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough | Under Pressure]

1. Can Jim Montgomery get the most out of them? Or at least maximize the fun?

Virtually every coach in sports history says all the right things when they first get hired. In landing his first NHL job in a pretty nice gig in the Stars, Montgomery’s doing his part.

“Doing his part” means using some optimistic language, even when concrete details are scarce. You can see a lot of that in his Aug. 8 interview with NHL.com’s Dan Rosen.

“I want to be the same coach I’ve been,” Montgomery said. “I want to be a coach whose teams are known for being relentless and the culture we create is selfless. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as we’re going toward the right direction. It’s all about being team-first. That’s the biggest challenge for any coach at any level.”

No, you are yawning.

During his time at the University of Denver, Montgomery laid out his “process” at “The Coaches’ Site,” and it’s … kind of adorable. It includes these seven goals:

So, what is the process? It’s made up of seven things.

1. 50 hits in a game

2. Win 60 percent of our face offs

3. Give up three or less odd man rushes

4. Commit to blocking shots

5. Win the special teams battle

6. Win the net front battle

7. Take zero undisciplined penalties

Heh.

Really, the only concerning part is that he wants to keep things “boring and simple,” yet hopefully he just means that tactically, in a K.I.S.S. way.

Because, honestly, it borders on criminal to ice a hockey team featuring Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg yet be “boring.” The Stars leaned in that direction far more than they should have, particularly under Ken Hitchcock, after briefly lighting up the NHL as one of the most entertaining squads in recent memory.

Before you say that exciting hockey isn’t winning hockey, consider the recent successes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, not to mention overachievers like the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils.

In many cases, it comes down to getting the most out of your roster. Does anyone really think that the Stars are better off trying to play old-fashioned, slow-down hockey when you consider the strengths of this roster? If you think the answer is no, please consult the dour pile of drool that was last season.

Allow me to dream up a best-case scenario for NHL teams: when in doubt, let talent, speed, and skill take over.

2. Is the Central Division simply too stacked?

It’s important to realize that, even if things go well, the Stars simply might not boast the same ceiling as the cream of the crop in the Central.

The Jets and Predators both hold an edge in depth, and each could match the Stars’ high-end when things went their way. The Blues got a lot better this summer, possibly passing Dallas “on paper.” The Wild and Avalanche can’t be totally disregarded after landing in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it’s a little early to write off the Blackhawks.

If you were to run the 2018-19 season hundreds of times, how often would the Stars end up coming out on top?

Don’t get it twisted; they certainly could go on a great run. There’s some exquisite talent on this roster, and it’s perfectly plausible that Montgomery will optimize where other coaches minimized. Plenty of teams would trade their core for Benn, Seguin, and Klingberg.

Still, they’re far from the favorites, and it won’t be easy.

3. Will they finally get their money’s worth in net?

Ben Bishop was solid in 2017-18 (26-17-5, .916 save percentage), which by recent Stars’ standards probably felt like re-living the best years of Marty Turco or putting that FUBU sweater back on Ed Belfour. That’s not necessarily the work they were hoping for from the big goalie, particularly since they halted their more attacking style in bringing him (and Hitchcock) in.

This was a quieter than usual off-season for the Stars (so far?), yet one of the bigger moves came in net, as they brought in a – hopefully – more reliable backup in Anton Khudobin, mercifully ending the Kari Lehtonen era.

Between Bishop (31) and Khudobin (32), the Stars are allocating $7.417 million in cap space to two veteran goalies.

After years of throwing money at a problem that persisted nonetheless, will Dallas feel good about its goalie expenditures for the first time in ages?

No doubt, the play in front of Bishop and Khudobin matters. Montgomery’s system (50 hits!) could provide a protective cocoon for those netminders, or perhaps a more modern approach would give them more margin of error on the scoreboard to win games?

Each goalie’s succeeded more than a few times in the NHL, so there’s hope that they can at least patch up this weakness, if not make it a strength. Of course, the Stars would likely tell you (through gritted teeth) that goalies aren’t very easy to predict.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Alex Ovechkin is as dominant as ever

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Alex Ovechkin appears to be well on his way to leading the league in goals for the eighth time in his career, an accomplishment that would be unprecedented in the history of the sport. As it stands, Bobby Hull as the only other player that has done it at least seven times, while Phil Esposito is the only other player that accomplished it more than five times. Ovechkin’s dominance over his peers is just one of the many things that makes him arguably the greatest goal-scorer to ever play in the NHL.

For as great as he has been, and for as consistently as he has done it, his 2018-19 season might be his best performance yet.

In terms of the overall numbers, it is not going to be his highest goal total, because he has virtually no chance of matching the 65 goals he scored during the 2007-08 season. But it is not the raw numbers that make this season so incredible. It is the fact that he is defying every aging curve that we know that exists for a player in the NHL.

He enters Tuesday’s game against the Devils just two goals shy of reaching the 50-mark for the eighth time in his career (which would be second most in league history, behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy), a mark that he is almost certain to hit sooner rather than later this season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 PM. ET – NBCSN]

When he does it, he will be just the fourth player in league history to do so in their age 33 season (or later), joining a list that includes only Jaromir Jagr (54 at age 33 in 2005-06), John Bucyk (51 at age 35 in 1970-71), and Bobby Hull (50 at age 33 in 1971-72).

At his current pace, Ovechkin is on track to score 54 goals this season, which would be tied for the sixth highest total for any player over the age of 30 in NHL history. He is already just one of 13 different players to ever score 50 goals over the age of 30, and is closing in on being just the fifth player to do it twice.

Let us just assume for a minute that he is able to maintain his current pace (because there is nothing over his first 71 games of the season to suggest he will not) and reaches that 54 number. It would be the third-highest total of his career, trailing only the 65 he scored in 2007-08 and the 56 he scored one year later in 2008-09.

There are two things that, arguably, make this performance so much more impressive.

First, obviously, is the age.

He was 22 and 23 years old in 2008 and 2009 and at his peak level of performance as an NHL player. At that point it was expected that he was going to dominate the league from a goal-scoring perspective. Today, he is closing in on his mid-30s, a time in his career where he should be starting to slow down just like every player that came before him did. The great ones like Gretzky, Lemieux, Richard, Esposito, and so on never maintained this type of goal-scoring pace at this age. They all slowed down dramatically by the time they were hitting their mid-30s.

The second is that he is going to end up playing close to 250 fewer minutes this season than he did a decade ago.

He was a 23-minute per night player during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons when he had his two highest goal-scoring performances. This season he is *only* playing just a little more than 20 minutes per game. It may not seem like a big deal, but at his current scoring pace an extra 250 minutes could add up to as many as an additional eight goals for the season. An additional eight goals at his current pace would put him on pace for 62 goals.

Again, he is 33 years old.

Now, nobody should reasonably expect him to log that many minutes at this age, and it would probably be lunacy for someone even as freakish as Ovechkin is to try it. Having your minutes limited because you are older is just one of the many reasons players see their production decline. But the overall point here is to simply put his performance this season into perspective, because it is amazing.

Given that he is once again leading the league in goals, for the defending Stanley Cup Champions, on a team that is once again fighting for a division title, it is kind of surprising he is not getting more play in the MVP debate. Not that he should win it, but maybe just that he should be in the discussion as a potential finalist.

He is still that great.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Push for the Playoffs: Flyers, Canadiens looking to keep playoff hopes alive

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Philadelphia Flyers kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Sunday night when they stormed back against the Pittsburgh Penguins, stealing two points with two stunning late goals. It was a game they absolutely had to have if they are going to make up this ground in the Eastern Conference, and they have another game just like that on Tuesday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens.

This one might really be a win-or-be-done type of game for them when it comes to their playoff chances.

They do not just need a win, either.

They need to win in regulation.

The Flyers open the day still six points back of a playoff spot, and trail the Canadiens (who are the first team on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture) by three points. A regulation win would at least bring them back to within a point of the Canadiens, and depending on what happens with the Columbus Blue Jackets in their game against the Calgary Flames, could close the playoff gap to as little as four points.

A loss could be devastating for what is left of their chances, especially if Columbus manages to win in Calgary.

The Canadiens can pull to within a point of the Blue Jackets with a win and a Columbus loss, while it would also pretty much leave the Flyers in their rear-view mirror the rest of the way.

Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, the Penguins and Hurricanes meet in a pivotal game in the Metropolitan Division race as they both look to stay out of a wild card spot and what could be a potential first-round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Islanders (vs. the Bruins) and Capitals (vs. the Devils) are also both in action as they continue to fight for the top spot in the Division.

In the Western Conference, the Minnesota Wild have a chance to jump back over the Arizona Coyotes for the second Wild Card spot, while the Calgary Flames can extend their lead in the Pacific Division over the San Jose Sharks after they were blown out on Monday night.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Islanders vs. Hurricanes
Capitals vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Flames vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Bruins vs. Islanders (7 p.m. ET)
Canadiens vs. Flyers (7 p.m. ET)
Penguins vs. Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET)
Capitals vs. Devils (7:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN- livestream link)
Oilers vs. Blues (8 p.m. ET)
Maple Leafs vs. Predators (8 p.m. ET)
Avalanche vs. Wild (8 p.m. ET)
Panthers vs. Stars (8:30 p.m. ET)
Blue Jackets vs. Flames (9 p.m. ET)

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIO
• The Sharks can clinch a playoff berth should the Wild lose to Colorado in any fashion.

Playoff Percentages (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Islanders — 100 percent
Capitals — 99.8 percent
Penguins — 98.2 percent
Hurricanes — 93.5 percent
Canadiens — 20.5 percent
Flyers — 4 percent
Panthers — 0.9 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

Playoff Percentages (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Sharks — 100 percent
Jets — 100 percent
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 100 percent
Blues — 98.2 percent
Stars — 91.3 percent
Coyotes 48.6 percent
Wild — 29.4 percent
Avalanche — 17.6 percent
Blackhawks — 12.3 percent
Canucks — 1.2 percent
Oilers — 1.4 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Sabres — 6.5 percent
Oilers — 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Avalanche — 3 percent
Panthers — 2.5 percent
Wild — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 117 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 105 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 101 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 92 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 91 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 40 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 38 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Pastrnak on injury; Nashville’s Turris problem

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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.

David Pastrnak on his thumb injury: “Obviously I let the guys down a bit. It’s a tough time. It’s not an injury that happened on the ice, so I took full responsibility for that. That’s what hurt me most. Could I have avoided it? I wish [that I had]. But obviously things happen. The fact that I could let somebody down, I definitely hate that. The first couple of weeks were tough.” [NBC Boston]

• Just in time as the playoffs approach, James Neal returns to the Calgary Flames after a 14-game absence, hoping to find his scoring touch again. [NHL.com]

• When the postseason does arrive, who will get the starting gig in net for the Flames? [Featurd]

• A good look at the teams playing well with the Stanley Cup Playoffs less than a month away. [TSN]

• Playoffs might be out of reach but the Vancouver Canucks are now acting as a spoiler. [Sportsnet]

• Meet the only female full-time Zamboni driver in the NHL. [ESPN]

• The younger members of the St. Louis Blues are really enjoying this playoff push. [Post-Dispatch]

• The San Jose Sharks are trying not to think too far into the future when it comes to a possible first-round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights. [NBC Bay Area]

Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy need to give more to the New York Islanders as the playoffs approach. [Islanders Insight]

• Examining who’s chasing and possessing the puck the most for the Columbus Blue Jackets. [1st Ohio Battery]

• The Nashville Predators have a Kyle Turris problem. [A to Z Sports]

• A product of the “Ovechkin Effect” in Washington D.C., the Capitals signed Yale product and local boy Joe Snively on Monday. [Japers’ Rink]

• Which AHL players could step up and make an impact with the Edmonton Oilers? [Oilers Nation]

• Finally, there were a good number of bloopers in the NHL over the last week:

————

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.

The Buzzer: Smith, Marchessault lead Shark slaughter; Connor helps Jets extend Central lead

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Three stars

1. Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights are unlikely to catch the Calgary Flames or the San Jose Sharks, but if the Sharks don’t surpass the Flames then both Vegas and San Jose are going to meet in the first round of the playoffs and the Smith and his squad fired the first shot on Monday with a four-point game in a 7-3 win.

Smith had a goal and three assists to help lead the Golden Knights to their third straight win. Smith has 16 points now in his past 12 games and has been on fire since early February.

2. Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights

See the above preamble, substitute Smith for Marchessault, and you have pretty much the same thing.

Marchessault notched his own four-point game in their win against San Jose, scoring twice and adding two assists. Marchessault now has four goals and two assists in his past two games.

The 28-year-old had one goal in 14 outings prior to his current little heater. He’s well off the 75-point pace he set last season, but if he’s heating up heading into the playoffs, watch out.

3. Kyle Connor Winnipeg Jets

When Connor is using his speed, he’s dangerous and he’s a bona fide playmaker.

So when he rushed down the left side of the ice, wrapped the puck around the net and fed it to Kevin Hayes to open the scoring, it was the 22-year-old’s speed that started it all off.

He’d then score a goal just 1:05 later in the game on the power play, using his diminutive frame as a net-front presence, jamming his 28th past Jack Campbell.

The Jets moved three points clear of the idle Nashville Predators and Winnipeg still has a game in hand on their Central Division foes.

Highlights of the night

Jumbo Joe still has it:

Can’t defend this:

Myers picks his corner:

So close…

Factoids

Patrick Kane hit 100 points for the second time in his NHL career on Monday.

Pettersson does it in the arena that he was drafted in:

Scores

Lightning 4, Coyotes 1
Canucks 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)
Jets 3, Kings 2
Golden Knights 7, Sharks 3


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