Improved overtime success playing huge role in Stars’ playoff push

Dallas Stars overtime
Glenn James, Getty Images

If the Dallas Stars end up returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season (and they are in a good position to do so) they have a massive swing in their overtime fortunes to thank for it.

During the 2020-21 season they fell four points short of the playoffs in the NHL’s reconfigured Central Division, and there were two main reasons for it. And they were somewhat related.

The first is that they played almost the entire season without Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, two players they were counting on to be among their top offensive players. That is a lot of skill to take out of the lineup, especially in overtime and shootout games where skill ultimately takes over.

The second is that they were one of the worst teams in the league in games decided beyond regulation, going 6-14 in overtime and shootouts. That includes an 0-5 record against the Nashville Predators, the team that finished just four points ahead of them for that fourth playoff spot in the division.

It has been the complete opposite story for the Stars this season, as they enter Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks with a 13-3 record in games decided beyond regulation. That is a massive swing, going from one of the league’s worst teams in those games to one of the best.

The Stars are one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the second Wild Card spot as of Tuesday, but still have four games in hand. Their current pace has them on track for 96 points this season. Vegas is on a 91-point pace while the two teams only have one head-to-head meeting remaining. You have to like Dallas’ chances right now.

So what has changed for the Stars in overtime this season to dramatically swing their season to the other side of the playoff bubble?

Aside from the fact that there is an element of luck to 3-on-3 situations and shootout, there are a couple of things that do stand out.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Competition for Avalanche in West; Bruins keep climbing]

The first is improved goaltending in both the overtime period and shootouts. The Stars goalies this season (a quartet of Jake Oettinger, Braden Holtby, Anton Khudobin, and the recently acquired Scott Wedgewood) have been dramatically better than Oettinger and Khudobin were in both situations a year ago. Holtby is obviously a new addition to the roster versus a year ago. Goaltending is always a pretty significant game-changer in any situation.

So far this season Stars goalies have the second-best 3-on-3 save percentage in the NHL at .971.

A year ago they were 14th at .861.

Noticeable improvement.

But there is another noticeable change in their overtime situations that is playing a major role in their success. It is the ability to actually use their best players in overtime. And, perhaps just as importantly, actually taking advantage of the opportunity to use them.

First, take a look at the eight Stars players with the most overtime ice-time a year ago (in order of highest to lowest): Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, Jamie Benn, Esa Lindell, Jason Dickinson, Joe Pavelski, Radek Faska, Jason Robertson.

Now compare that list to the eight players with the most overtime ice-time this season (again in order of highest to lowest): Roope Hintz, John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski, Esa Lindell.

Pay extra special attention to the first five or six players in each group. That is a pretty dramatic swing. Three of the Stars’ top-five players in overtime ice-time a year ago were defenseman, including one (Lindell) that is not really known for offense. The top-two forwards a year ago were Jamie Benn, whose offense has rapidly declined, and Jason Dickinson, a player that has never topped 10 goals in a season.

Not ideal!

Hintz and Seguin both had their availability last year limited by injury (Seguin played in just two games; Hintz missed 15 games), while Robertson simply was not a player the Stars leaned on, playing just 58 seconds per overtime game. This season he is seeing an extra 30 seconds of ice time per overtime. Better goaltending extending games plays a factor in that, sure, but there is also a clear usage change and getting an opportunity to use players like Hintz, Seguin, and Robertson more in those situations is also going to extend games.

So far this season Seguin has already contributed to two overtime goals, scoring one and assisting on another, while Hintz has contributed to four (scoring one and assisting on three).

Remember, those two guys did not even crack the top-eight in terms of Stars’ overtime ice-time a year ago because of injuries. Hintz was sidelined for eight of the Stars’ 20 overtime games a year ago, with the Stars winning just one of those games. Seguin missed 19 of them. That does not even get into Robertson’s usage as he was behind Jason Dickinson on the Stars’ overtime ice-time listing. Robertson has two overtime goals this season and an overtime assist.

The Stars are right on the playoff bubble for the second year in a row, and every possible point is going to make a difference. A year ago they did not get those extra points in overtime.

This year they are. It might be enough to get them that Wild Card spot.

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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

    UP NEXT

    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.