What went wrong: 2020-21 Dallas Stars

What went wrong: 2020-21 Dallas Stars
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PHT’s “What Went Wrong” series aims to analyze why each team missed the playoffs. The “What Went Wrong” series continues with the 2020-21 Dallas Stars.

Heading into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, few expected the Dallas Stars to finish two wins shy of a championship. Yet, there they were, making the Lightning sweat.

Such a run can set expectations too high, especially when you fight through injuries that sometimes require surgery. Add COVID and other variables on top, and as disappointing as the drop-off was, it’s difficult to totally blame the 2020-21 Dallas Stars for missing the playoffs.

Even so, the goal almost certainly was to make another run. So, what went wrong, right, and in between for the Stars in 2020-21? Let’s dig in.

What went wrong before the Stars’ 2020-21 season

During that unexpected run, Tyler Seguin and others piled up serious injuries. Understandably, Seguin went under the knife, and his recovery window extended to cover virtually all of the Stars’ 2020-21 regular season.

(Seguin scored two goals in three games in 2020-21, logging about 51 minutes for the Stars.)

The Stars lacked Ben Bishop for most of that run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, and the big, bruised goalie didn’t play a single game this season.

Considering those injuries alone, Dallas faced serious challenges. But you can rank the Stars among the NHL teams hit hardest by COVID in 2020-21, with players such as Anton Khudobin sharing alarming details about struggling with symptoms.

Long story short, the Stars faced a tough lot heading into 2020-21 — even compared to other teams who struggled after losing in a Stanley Cup Final series.

What went wrong during the Stars’ 2020-21 season

Again, COVID disrupted the Stars’ season in a big way. So did those injuries.

If that wasn’t enough, the Stars (a team that plays in an indoor rink, generally shielded from the elements) experienced bizarre weather disruptions. The culprit? Snow … in Dallas. Yeah, it was that kind of year.

Between COVID and other issues, it was a trying year for Anton Khudobin, who occasionally landed in Rick Bowness’ doghouse.

Eventually, those COVID and weather factors forced the Stars to deal with a compressed schedule. As in: even by the trying standards of this compressed season, Dallas needed to squeeze in a borderline-dangerous stretch of games as they tried to make up ground in the Central Division playoff race.

You probably don’t need a spoiler warning that the Stars couldn’t make it.

What went right

You don’t have to be outrageously generous to give the Stars credit for hanging in there, though.

Just imagine if the Stars were merely average in overtime/shootouts. (They lost 14 games in overtime and/or shootouts.)

Even with all that went wrong, the Stars ranked third in the NHL in expected goals percentage (54.05), ahead of the puck-hogging Panthers and Hurricanes. Of the top 10 teams in that Natural Stat Trick metric, only the Stars and Flames missed the playoffs. You don’t need Charlie Kelly to map out his conspiracy theories; the Stars’ “What if?” questions for the 2020-21 season aren’t all that delusional.

In particular, the Stars were really cooking with an improvised top line of Calder finalists Jason Robertson, amazing-when-healthy Roope Hintz, and Joe Pavelski. If you want an idea of how good Pavelski was for the Stars in 2020-21, consider that he was my top Selke Trophy choice.

Among other strengths, the Stars boasted a productive power play that converted at a 23.57-percent success rate.

Credit the Predators for being scrappy against the Hurricanes, but the Stars might have been a more dangerous upset threat if they made the playoffs.

You can absolutely talk yourself into the Stars rebounding in a big way next season.

What’s next?

That said, the Stars have some questions to answer, including how to handle the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

There are also some fair questions about aging curves. Pavelski was astoundingly good, but he’s also somehow 36. Plenty of ink has spilled about the decline of 31-year-old Jamie Benn. Alexander Radulov, 34, experienced a tough season. It’s fair to wonder about 34-year-old Ben Bishop and Khudobin, who’s 35. Even Seguin is no longer fresh-faced at 29.  That might be an additional aspect of the Stars’ 2020-21 season being so painful: could their window close?

That said, they have room to maneuver, and reason to hope that Hintz can get healthy, and Robertson could remain a top-line forward.

And, hey, they could use their 2021 first-rounder to either target another youthful presence, or make a move to win now. They’re currently slated to pick 14th after the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery.

Overall, this is a team to watch this offseason — and one who is hard to predict.  Time will tell if next season’s Stars are closer to the 2020-21 version, or the 2019-20 group that turned many heads.

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.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.