Why Dallas Stars went from ice-cold to red-hot

Why Dallas Stars went from ice-cold to red-hot
Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

What a difference a month makes. A month ago, the Dallas Stars were sputtering, leaving Rick Bowness searching for answers. Now, the Stars take a seven-game winning streak into Wednesday’s game, and they’ve also won nine of their last 10 games.

So, does that mean all of their questions have been answered?

Not necessarily. You know how people say “the truth is somewhere in between?” That feels especially appropriate for the Dallas Stars.

During a season between extremes, it’s fitting that the Stars remain out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Naturally, even that doesn’t tell the whole story, either. The Stars possess games in hand on most of their Central Division/Western Conference brethren, leaving them right in the thick of things.

Let’s look at the big picture and specifics of this hot streak. How much of it is luck, and how much of it might just be a sign of a formidable Stars team?

First, the big picture of the Dallas Stars’ hot streak

The short version: the Dallas Stars’ hot streak is powered by a deadly scoring line (Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, and Jason Robertson) and a red-hot goalie tandem of Braden Holtby and Jake Oettinger.

We’ll delve into those driving forces shortly. Zoom out first, though. Check out the difference in simple stats (via NHL.com) and underlying numbers at even strength (Natural Stat Trick) between roughly the first month of the Stars’ season and the second, hot one.

Why Dallas Stars went from ice-cold to red-hot chart

[Dallas Stars rising in PHT’s Power Rankings]

Broadly, there are some similarities. Even during this hot streak, the Stars focus on quality more than quantity (the latter seen in stats like Corsi For% [CF%]). Interestingly, their power play was dynamite during the slump, and remained strong (23.3 percent tied for ninth-most efficient).

As usual, the changes are more interesting.

  • Unsurprisingly, the Stars’ puck luck started off dismal (that 5.72-percent even-strength shooting percentage ranked second worst in the NHL). Lately, that luck swung drastically. They more than doubled their shooting percentage (12.02) and received elite goaltending.
  • Their penalty kill went from one of the worst, to unsustainably stingy. Most likely another case of the truth being between two extremes.
  • Amid the good and bad bounces, the Dallas Stars have also “made” their own luck — to an extent. After struggling in quality areas like expected goals percentage and high-danger chances, they played like a top-10 or even top-five team in those areas during this hotter month.

No, don’t expect the Stars to get so many saves or shoot so efficiently for the rest of this season. But there’s a lot to like about their process; they’re owning the high-priced real estate in the high-danger areas.

Let’s go deeper on that hot line, and keyed-in goalies.

No denying it: Hintz, Robertson, Pavelski drive Stars’ offense

Through 12 games, defenseman Miro Heiskanen was the only Stars player at double-digits in points (12). Every other Stars player generated seven points or fewer.

Then again, Jason Robertson only played in six of those games (tellingly generating five points).

During their hot streak, the Stars are witnessing — once again — the power of the Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, Jason Robertson trio. If you missed it last season, that line was absolutely deadly — when Hintz was healthier enough to complete it.

In the past 10 games, Hintz and Robertson lead the Stars with 13 points, while Pavelski is just behind them with 12. No one else scored more than seven points during that 10-game span.

Questions of balance, and the future

Ideally, the Stars would love better scoring balance. After all, in a playoff series, a strong opponent might nullify (or at least slow down) Robertson – Hintz – Pavelski.

It’s worth noting that some of the top-heavy scoring is somewhat by design. As Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy recently noted, Rick Bowness slices up roles in very deliberate ways, setting the table for that trio to score.

In the margins, maybe you can spread the wealth a bit. But as McCurdy also noted, feeding Robertson – Hintz – Pavelski chances is generally wise.

Perhaps the key would merely be to squeeze out more of a good thing? Even during this hot streak, Jamie Benn‘s receiving average ice time (17:16) than Pavelski (17:09), Hintz (16:47), and Robertson (16:13, less than Radek Faksa‘s 16:18).

Obviously, the Stars have to be careful with Pavelski, who’s somehow 37 years old. But Hintz (25) and especially* Robertson (22) should be able to handle a larger workload. Worst case scenario, you try it out, then dial it back?

* – Considering Hintz’s injury issues last season.

Generally speaking, the Stars clearly have a great thing going in Robertson – Hintz – Pavelski. In a more hockey-mad market, they’d be getting more press. To get to the next level, the Stars should aim for some combination of more out of them, and more out of those around them.

Bad news for the rest of the NHL: Stars’ goalies are red-hot again

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Dallas Stars have had a knack for manufacturing strong-to-elite goaltending. No doubt, much of that comes from being one of the stingiest defensive teams from Jim Montgomery’s run through to Rick Bowness. (Ken Hitchcock likely didn’t hurt, there, either.)

As usual, the Stars’ defense nurtures a goalie’s stats.

Yeah, it’s a bummer that Anton Khudobin rapidly slipped from feel-good story to the trading block. But the Stars were clearly wise to roll with a Holtby + Jake Oettinger combo instead.

For the most part, Holtby gave the Stars chances to win during that slump. Khudobin, not so much.

Over the long haul, Holtby and Oettinger generated unsustainably strong goaltending over the last month-ish …

Unless the Stars have two secret peak Dominik Hasek clones in Oettinger and Holtby clothing, even that defense won’t generate .950+ save percentages often. We don’t see .940+ very often, either, really.

(Frankly, the best Khudobin + Ben Bishop years already seemed tough to replicate.)

Yet, if the Stars can count on Robertson + Hintz + Pavelski more often than not, and put their goalies in position to succeed, they could be a scary opponent. We’ve seen formulas like these work in the playoffs, and this team isn’t that far removed form that 2020 Stanley Cup Final run.

Just don’t expect the Dallas Stars to stay this hot.

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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    Devils rally from two goals down to beat Rangers 5-3

    Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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    NEW YORK – Jack Hughes and Michael McLeod scored in the second period, Vitek Vanecek stopped 35 shots and the surging New Jersey Devils rallied from an early two-goal deficit to beat the New York Rangers 5-3 on Monday night.

    Yegor Sharangovich had two goals and Tomas Tatar also scored to help the first-place Devils win their third straight since having their 13-game winning streak snapped last week. New Jersey has won 10 straight road games and has only one loss since starting the season 3-3-0.

    The Rangers raced to a 2-0 lead just three minutes into the contest but the Devils scored twice to tie it later in the first period to tie it and then scored twice in the second period to take the lead.

    “We stayed with our game. There was a calmness on the bench,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said of his team’s early deficit. “All I said on the bench was ‘let’s get the next goal and we’ll be back in the game.”‘

    Vanecek improved to 11-2-0 as scattered chants of “Let’s Go Devils” were heard at Madison Square Garden.

    The Devils have made the playoffs only once – in 2018 – since beating the Rangers in six games in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.

    “It was great to hear the fans here on our side,” Devils forward Miles Wood said. “We can’t thank them enough.”

    Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck scored and Chris Kreider had two assists for the Rangers, who fell to 4-5-3 at home. Igor Shesterkin had 33 saves.

    New York also lost its second straight at home in a disheartening fashion. The Rangers squandered a 3-0 third-period lead against Edmonton on Saturday to lose 4-3. Last season, they won 27 of 41 games at the Garden.

    “When one thing goes wrong it starts to snowball on us,” Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren said. “We keep saying we have to play a full 60. You can’t keep talking about it, you have to go out and do it.”

    Rangers coach Gerard Gallant credited the young and hungry Devils with playing a superior game.

    “They put lots of offense at you, they play fast and they showed that,” Gallant said. “Tonight they were the better team.”

    Tatar narrowed the deficit to 2-1 at 7:31 of the first with a nifty high backhand shot past Shesterkin for his sixth of the season. Jesper Bratt had an assist on the play, giving him a point in 18 for the Devils’ 23 games this season.

    Sharangovich tied it with an unassisted goal with 6:35 left in the first.

    Hughes put the Devils ahead at 5:44 of the second after he gained a stride on Lindgren before sliding the puck past Shesterkin for his 12th of the season and fourth in the last two games.

    McLeod made it 4-2 at 9:40 with his third goal after Wood hit the crossbar behind Shesterkin.

    “I have to play better,” said , who was also in goal for Saturday’s meltdown against Edmonton and has lost three of his last five games.

    It was the fourth time in their last six games the Devils scored at least four times and New Jersey improved to 9-0-0 when the 21-year-old Hughes – the top overall pick by the Devils in the 2019 draft – has a goal.

    Trocheck scored his eighth goal on the power play for the Rangers with 6:42 left in the third to pull within one, but Sharangovich added an empty-netter with 16 seconds remaining to seal the win.

    The Devils improved a franchise-best 13-1-0 in November and an NHL-best 16-0-0 when leading after two periods.

    “It’s fun playing here,” Hischier said. “It feels great to beat the Rangers,?

    Panarin scored 1:20 into the game to end a personal 12-game goal-scoring drought with his sixth of the season and first since Oct. 30 at Arizona.

    Zibanejad made it 2-0 at 3:01 with his team-best 11th of the season.


    Devils: Host Nashville on Thursday night.

    Rangers: At Ottawa on Wednesday night.

    Stamkos lifts Lightning past Sabres 6-5 in OT

    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. – Steven Stamkos scored his second goal of the game 2:44 into overtime to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 6-5 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

    Brayden Point also had two goals, Brandon Hagel had a goal and an assist, and Corey Perry also scored for the Lightning, who rallied from two goals down in the third period to force overtime. Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev each had three assists, and Stamkos added one for a three-point night.

    Brian Elliott had 32 saves to get the win.

    “We got the breaks at the end to pull us back, some big-time players got us back into it,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.

    Tage Thompson had a goal and an assist, and Tyson Jost, Jeff Skinner, Jack Quinn and Dylan Cozens also scored for Buffalo. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 19 saves.

    “You allow good players a little bit of extra time and a little bit of extra space, they’re going to make plays on you,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “We had hesitation in our game and it was only the last 10 minutes.”

    In the extra period, Stamkos got the winner on a blast from the right circle for his 12th of the season.

    “There’s going to be games where we don’t deserve the two points and tonight was probably one of those, but we’ve been on the other side of that too,” Stamkos said.

    With the score tied at 3-3 to open the third period, the Sabres appeared to take control in the third with two goals for a 5-3 lead with a little more than 5 1/2 minutes remaining.

    Cozens put Buffalo ahead at 9:37, ripping a shot from the right circle under the crossbar and beating Elliott on the glove side. Skinner made it 5-3 with 5:41 remaining, finishing from a tight angle after an odd-man rush was initially stopped.

    However, the Lightning answered back with two goals 3 1/2 minutes apart.

    Stamkos scored just 16 seconds after Skinner’s goal to get the Lightning within one. Hagel tied it with a power-play goal with 2:02 remaining. With Elliott pulled to create a 6-on-4 advantage, Kucherov’s shot from the right circle was deflected by Hagel past Luukkonen.

    Point opened the scoring 7:54 into the game with a power-play goal from close range for his ninth.

    Perry made it 2-0 with 3:12 left in the first off a cross-ice pass from Stamkos.

    Thompson put Buffalo on the board with 2:06 left in the first, beating Elliott with some nifty stick-handling after forcing a turnover in front of the Tampa net.

    Quinn evened it 59 seconds later, finishing a nice feed from JJ Peterka on a quick offensive rush.

    Jost gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead midway through the second period, scoring his first goal with the Sabres after he was acquired off waivers from Minnesota on Nov. 19.

    Point tied it 3-3 on the power play with 3:34 left in the second after getting a pass from Kucherov.


    Each team had one player return from a recent injury. Sabres center Rasmus Asplund returned after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Tampa Bay forward Cole Koepke returned after missing three games with an upper-body injury.


    Lightning: At Boston on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: At Detroit on Wednesday night.

    Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

    “It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

    Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

    “It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

    The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

    Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

    John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

    “Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

    Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

    “That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

    Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

    Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

    The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

    “You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

    Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

    NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.


    Capitals: At Vancouver.

    Devils: At the New York Rangers.

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

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    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.


    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).


    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.