NHL On NBCSN: Do not count out the Stars in playoff race

Stars playoff race
Getty

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars. Red Wings-Stars stream coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It has been a frustrating year for the Stars to this point. And even though their playoff chances looked to be slipping away from them a few weeks ago, they still find themselves with a fighting chance in the Central Division race.

They enter Monday’s game against the Red Wings in sixth place, three points out of the fourth and final playoff spot. That may seem like a tough position to be in this late in the season, but there are a couple of things working in their favor that could put them in the driver’s seat for that spot. It is probably not the situation the Stars expected to find themselves in at this point in the season, especially after back-to-back deep playoff runs including a the Stanley Cup Final appearance last season, but here we are.

The Stars’ season got off to a rocky start when Tyler Segin and Ben Bishop were sidelined before training camp due to offseason surgeries. They were then the first team to have their schedule delayed due to a COVID outbreak. When they were finally able to return to play, they stormed out with a great start with four straight wins by a combined 19-6 margin.

They looked great. Until they didn’t. They followed that fast start by slumping toward the bottom of the league standings with a 7-12-10 record (that is seven wins 29 games) through the end of March that left them near the bottom of the standings and seven points out of a playoff spot with Nashville, Chicago, and Columbus all sitting between them. They were only four points ahead of last place Detroit.

[RED WINGS-STARS COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The one thing the Stars had working in their favor: More games to play than anybody else. And they have taken advantage of it. Since the start of April the Stars have started to resemble more of the team that they should be this season, even as they continue to play without Bishop Alex Radulov, who are done for the season, and Seguin, who’s expected back soon.

They have gone 6-2-2 so far in April, while averaging more than three goals per game playing the lockdown hockey with strong goaltending that helped drive them to the 2020 Cup Final.

It is also a couple of rookies that are helping to drive their turnaround.

Jason Robertson has been incredible and has not only been one of the league’s best rookies, he has been one of the most efficient 5-on-5 players in terms of driving offense. When he is on the ice during even-strength play, the Stars score a lot of goals. His performance may not be enough to close the gap in the Calder Trophy race with Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov, but he has at least put himself in the discussion to be a finalist.

In goal, Jake Oettinger has been white hot as of late and helped give the Stars the strong 1-2 punch in goal (along with Anton Khudobin) that made them so successful a year ago.

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

Combined with strong years from Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz, as well as their strong defense led by Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg, and the Stars have rapidly closed the gap in the playoff race.

As of Monday, they actually have the best fourth best points percentage in the Central (.535) and what is by far the fourth-best goal differential (plus-13). They still have three games in hand on the Nashville team they are chasing (by three points) and two games in hand on the Chicago team they trail by just a single point. Starting on Monday, the Stars play four consecutive games against a Detroit team they are already 3-1-0 against this season and outscored by a 14-7 margin. Nashville and Chicago play each other three more times and should steal points from each other.

Obviously nothing is a guarantee (they still have to play those games, while games in hand are not necessarily wins in hand) but the Stars are probably in a much better position than their overall place in the standings may appear. They have an opportunity here to not only close the gap, but maybe even potentially erase it.

Given where they were in the standings just a couple of weeks ago, and with the injury situation being what it is, that is a pretty impressive turnaround. They need it to continue starting on Monday night against the Red Wings.

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.

Scroll Down For:

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

    mark stone surgery
    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

    brunette dui
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
    1 Comment

    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.