Feel better, Patrik Stefan: Tyler Seguin whiffed on empty-netter, too

Tyler Seguin joined “The Patrik Stefan Club” on Thursday.

This imaginary group doesn’t hand out a (sad) jacket as if it was honoring the winner of the Masters Tournament, but if they did, credit Seguin for wearing it well. Much like Stefan, Seguin failed on an empty-net goal attempt in a deeply comical way.

Of course, Seguin could laugh it off because a) no reasonable person would refer to it as “career-defining” like many do with Stefan and b) it didn’t result in the other team scoring a tying goal right after the botched ENG attempt, as it infamously happened with Stefan.

After the Stars’ 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday – a fairly big win that included an Alexander Radulov ENG, by the way – Seguin had some fun at his own expense.

(There was also this “Finding Nemo” reference that’s apparently amusing and fitting enough that Jamie Benn tweeted the same thing.)

Here’s the Stefan debacle to jog your memory, and cement the notion that it really can’t be topped.

Heading into Thursday, Stefan and Seguin had some things in common. They both have played for the Dallas Stars. They both were high picks, with Stefan going first (ouch) in 1999, while Seguin was selected second overall in 2010. But now they can truly exchange knowing looks, as they’ve whiffed badly on what would seem like “gimme” opportunities.

In the case of Seguin making this mistake, it’s a rare moment when he seems like the rest of us: capable of making a forehead-slapper in an athletic event. He won’t do that often, particularly when there isn’t a goalie in the opposing net.

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.

The Buzzer: Hats off to Zucker, Radulov; Kuemper shines again for Coyotes

Three Stars

1. Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild. The Minnesota Wild just keep on winning. They dramatically improved their playoff chances on Thursday night with a 3-0 win over the NHL’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, thanks to huge games from Jason Zucker and and starting goalie Devan Dubnyk. Zucker scored all three goals for the Wild who now find themselves three points up on a playoff spot in the Western Conference. It is an incredible run for a Wild team that has been ripped apart by trades and injuries over the past few weeks.

2. Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars. This was a huge win for the Dallas Stars, not only because it was two points in the standings as they look to secure a playoff spot, but because it was two points in a head-to-head game with a team they are competing with for one of those spots. By defeating the Colorado Avalanche, 4-0, they now find themselves five points ahead of the Avalanche and four points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes. Alexander Radulov had the big night in the Stars’ win with three goals to give him 20 on the season.

3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. With Dallas and Minnesota both winning on Thursday night this was a game the Arizona Coyotes absolutely had to have to keep pace. They got it, and in rather impressive fashion, by beating the top team in the Western Conference, the Calgary Flames. Darcy Kuemper continued his incredible play by stopping all 30 shots he faced in a 2-0 win.

Highlights of the Night

The Boston Bruins scored two goals in 30 seconds to come from behind against the Florida Panthers.

Somehow the Edmonton Oilers are going to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in four years with Connor McDavid on their team.

The St. Louis Blues kept rolling with a win over the Los Angeles Kings, and it was Vladimir Tarasenko getting things going early.

Factoids

  • This was the second time in franchise history the Boston Bruins have erased a deficit in the final minute of a game then won in regulation. [NHL PR]
  • Patrick Kane passed Steve Larmer for fourth place on the Chicago Blackhawks’ all-time points list. [NHL PR]
  • Henrik Lundqvist appeared in his 850th game for the New York Rangers on Thursday night, which is a pretty big deal. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Florida Panthers 3

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 2

Detroit Red Wings 3, New York Rangers 2 (SO)

Minnesota Wild 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 0

Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres 4 (SO)

Dallas Stars 4, Colorado Avalanche 0

Edmonton Oilers 3, Vancouver Canucks 2

Arizona Coyotes 2, Calgary Flames 0

St. Louis Blues 4, Los Angeles Kings 0

San Jose Sharks 5, Montreal Canadiens 2

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.

Are Stars making right call in scratching Radulov for being late?

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It’s one thing to stick to your guns when the stakes are low, but what about when the heat is really on?

The Dallas Stars announced that top-line winger Alexander Radulov will be a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers after arriving late to the morning skate.

As Mike Heika of the Stars’ website notes, this healthy scratch is consistent with team policy, as Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, Cody Eakin, and Erik Cole* have all been punished similarly during Jim Nill’s time as GM.

* – Anyone else forget that Cole got a fairly recent run with the Stars?

Plenty of Stars fans question the decision to follow through with this policy. A mere look at the standings (even more at the Playoff Push) helps justify some of that concern.

This isn’t the first time Radulov’s been suspended by his team, and it’s also not his first run-in with Stars head coach Jim Montgomery.

During the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Radulov missed curfew with the Nashville Predators, prompting Barry Trotz to bench him for two postseason games. Trotz stated that Radulov needed to address issues both on and off the ice.

“He knows he has to change in a lot of aspects, on ice, off ice, the way he trains, all those types of things,” Trotz said, via The Tennessean “We had a long conversation on that. He seems to be very committed to that now.”

That incident inspired some real doubts about Radulov as a “locker room guy,” but since returning to the NHL from a KHL sojourn – first with Montreal, then Dallas – he’s largely drawn rave reviews for his work ethic.

Still, there was that heated moment in mid-January, when Montgomery benched a displeased Radulov. To his credit, Radulov owned up to the situation, supporting the rookie head coach.

“I got benched,” Radulov said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “It was the right decision by coach. I wasn’t playing good and I talked back with Monty and he basically sit me until the end of the period. It’s the right decision and I can’t do that. It’s been an issue in my career, but I got to learn from it. I got to be better.”

Looking forward, this could easily blow over, or just as easily fester.

The second-guessing would likely be far quieter if the Stars beat the Rangers, as you’d expect. If Dallas loses – particularly if the Stars fall out of playoff position – then you’d anticipate louder grumbles.

It’s also crucial for the coach and player to patch things up. Montgomery didn’t elaborate on the decision, and Radulov didn’t speak with reporters on Tuesday, so at this point it’s a guessing game regarding where their relationship is at. Overall, though, no press conferences might be a wise move after that series of PR gaffes that ended 2018 with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin being thrown under the bus.

For all we know, keeping Radulov on track (and convincing Montgomery to give him a clean slate) could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. The winger has almost a point-per-game this season (51 in 54 games), and tilts the ice in the Stars’ favor when he’s out there.

(Aside: considering just how brutally long an 82-game season is, it’s honestly surprising that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. Then again, maybe other teams are just more lenient?)

If nothing else, Stars management has been … courageous this season. Was this the right choice, or would you have leaned more in the direction of, say, merely fining Radulov?

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.

PHT Power Rankings: The unexpected rise of the Islanders

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Expectations were understandably low for the New York Islanders at the start of the 2018-19 NHL season. They were coming off of a non-playoff year, had just lost their best player to free agency, spent the offseason filling the roster with fourth-liners and depth players, and three of their returning best forwards (Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson) were all entering the final year of their contracts making their future with the team up in the air (and they still are).

Add to that the fact they were an historically bad defensive team a year ago and were entering the season with a couple of question marks in net in Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.

On paper this team looked more likely to be competing for the top pick in the draft than the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. Here we are now in mid-February and the Islanders are in first place in the Metro with a five-point lead (with a game in hand still) on the defending Stanley Cup champions and are one point better than the Toronto Maple Leafs team that signed John Tavares away from them.

There are reasons to wonder how long this run can last beyond this season — or even throughout the rest of this season — especially given the contract situations with Eberle, Lee, and Nelson, and that is to say nothing of any possible regression from the performance of the goalies. But for right now they are here at the top of the league, they are almost certainly going to the playoffs, and they are probably one of the most improbable success stories in recent NHL memory.

Heck, if you go back over the past decade or more they might be the second most improbably success story behind last year’s expansion Vegas Golden Knights that made a run to the Stanley Cup Final in their debut season.

There have been a lot of teams that have experienced rapid turnarounds in one year. Last year’s Colorado Avalanche went from the worst record in the league to the playoffs. The 2016-17 Ottawa Senators went on an unexpected run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. That season’s Edmonton Oilers also made their first playoff appearance in a decade and were a Game 7 away from being in the Western Conference Final.

But none of those teams were facing a situation quite like this year’s Islanders where they were not only bad, but also lost their best player.

None of this should be working. But that is kind of the beauty and unpredictably that the NHL can provide.

The very nature of hockey lends itself more to these type of stories than almost any other sport because of the role luck can play, or how much a goaltending performance can alter the trajectory of a team or a season. The Islanders have had a lot of that go their way this season, and when you add in a top-tier coaching addition behind the bench you have the perfect recipe for an unexpected rise to the top of the league.

We can poke at their success all we want and look for flaws and wait for the bottom to fall out (and I definitely have this season), but for right now they have one of the best records in the league, are still white-hot over the past few weeks, and are giving their fans something to be legitimately happy about for the first time in years.

They crack the top-three in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else in the league fit this week?

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — There is just no knocking the Lightning out of this spot. They enter the week riding yet another five-game winning streak, have shut out their past two opponents, and have a forward in Nikita Kucherov who is having a Lemieux or Gretzky type of season offensively. They are 15 points ahead of the next closest team in the standings. Just give them the Presidents’ Trophy now.

2. San Jose Sharks — They still went 6-3-0 without Erik Karlsson and now he is back healthy. Still think they are a solid goalie away from being an absolute force of a team.

The Strong Contenders

3. New York Islanders — This has got to be one of the more memorable and satisfying seasons Islanders fans have had since … well … the 80s?

4. Boston Bruins — There are still serious concerns about the scoring depth on this team because one line will not take you very far … but the results are there right now, and they keep climbing the standings.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — Frederik Andersen is still the unsung hero of this team. His ability to play almost every night and at a well above league average level is huge for a team that isn’t great defensively. Just like last year, though, I worry about that workload during the regular season having a negative impact when the playoffs roll around. That is a grind of a season.

6. Calgary Flames — They hit what was one of their first real rough patches of the season recently by losing five out of six including four in a row. Snapped out of that, however, with an impressive win in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

7. Winnipeg Jets — I feel like this is a team where the results are not matching the process behind them right now. But the results are still kind of good.

The Middle Of The Pack Teams

8. St. Louis Blues — A 10-game winning streak and a 16-4-1 record since the start of the new year has rocketed them up the Western Conference standings, into a solid playoff position, and with still three games in hand on the Predators could even find themselves with a shot — a long shot, yes, but still a shot — to maybe steal home ice advantage in the first round.

9. Columbus Blue Jackets — What a maddening team. They win four in a row, then lose five in a row, then win four in a row, they might trade their best player, they might be in the market to add Matt Duchene. Chaos. All of it. But when they play at their best they can be really, really, really good.

10. Nashville Predators — They’ve set an incredibly high bar for themselves over the past two years that their record of 34-22-5 entering Monday, and their recent play, seems like a little less than what it should be. They are still great. Just seems like there is more there waiting to come out.

11. Carolina Hurricanes — This bunch of jerks is 16-5-1 in its past 22 games and playing like one of the best teams in the league. And it still may not be enough to secure a playoff. How you start a season matters.

[Related: Hurricanes keep winning, celebrating like bunch of jerks]

12. Washington Capitals — They are just like the 2017-18 version of the Capitals. A really good team that is capable of going on an incredible hot streak where they can be almost unbeatable. The key this year will be if they go on one of those runs at the right time again.

13. Montreal Canadiens — On paper the roster does not look to be anything special, but they are well coached, have strong underlying numbers to suggest their success this year is not a fluke, and they have a goalie that can change a game on any night.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins — Evgeni Malkin is starting to get on a roll. That is exactly what the Penguins need right now.

15. Philadelphia Flyers — The playoffs will not happen this season, but Carter Hart might be the most important player to enter the organization in a long, long, long time. His debut this season is probably good enough to change the short-term direction of the franchise.

16. Vegas Golden Knights — With only five wins — and only three in regulation — over their past 14 games entering the week this might be one of the longest slumps in the brief existence of the Golden Knights.

17. Dallas Stars — The offense is still revolving around only four or five players and a bunch of hopes and prayers that somebody else does something. They might make the playoffs because Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov are great and because the rest of the teams immediately around them mostly stink.

[Related: After CEO criticism, Seguin leading Stars’ turnaround]

18. Chicago Blackhawks — They are making a late season push, and the West might just be bad enough to give them a shot they probably wouldn’t otherwise have.

19. Florida Panthers — They have been decent lately, but the real intrigue around this team is what they do over the next week, presumably in a quest to go after the big fish in free agency this summer.

20. New York Rangers — They have been very competitive lately, probably to the detriment of their lottery chances, but I suspect once the trade deadline comes and goes this roster will probably look a lot different and the winning will probably slow down a bit.

21. Minnesota Wild — Bruce Boudreau has never coached a full season in the NHL and missed the playoffs (he spent the 2011-12 season split between Washington and Anaheim and missed the playoffs that season). He is in danger of experiencing that this season, even if he is confident in his team’s chances.

[Related: Boudreau confident about Wild’s chances to earn playoff spot]

22. Buffalo Sabres — I realize you can’t take away a 10-game winning streak, but there were a lot of smoke and mirrors behind that success and outside of those 10 games where they won a bunch of one-goal games in overtime and shootouts they have been the same old Sabres.

23. Vancouver Canucks — They are definitely on the right track and have some great young cornerstone pieces to build around, but they are still not a great — or even very good — team yet. 

The Lose For Hughes Teams

24. Arizona Coyotes — A terribly unlucky season on the injury front. Can not question the effort of the players, though. They have been competitive and a thorn in the side of opponents all year.

25. Colorado Avalanche — Simply put, they have been awful for more than two full months now.

26. New Jersey Devils — One positive to come out of this lost season is the development of Nico Hischier. He has been good.

27. Los Angeles Kings — Is Ilya Kovalchuk really done or is he just stuck on the worst possible team for offense? Maybe a little of column A and a little of column B? I would be interested to find out at the trade deadline, and I am sure the Kings would like to be rid of that contract.

28. Detroit Red Wings — Work those phones, Ken. Sell! Sell! Sell!

29. Ottawa Senators — By this time next week the roster could be unrecognizable. Even more than it already is.

30. Anaheim Ducks — Winning two out of three is progress, I guess?

31. Edmonton Oilers — They actually have a worse points percentage under Ken Hitchcock than they did under Todd McLellan. Goodness gracious what a mess.

MORE: PHT’s 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

After CEO’s criticism, Seguin leading Stars’ turnaround

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The most noteworthy thing to happen to the Dallas Stars this season came at the end of December when team CEO Jim Lites loudly and profanely criticized his team’s two best players, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and pretty much blamed them entirely for the team’s underachieving.

In doing so he absolved general manager Jim Nill of any and all blame for the team’s shortcomings, and ignored the fact that even though Seguin and Benn were, at the time, having “down” years for their standards they were still by far the best and most productive players on the team.

It was an outrageous rant at the time, and it looks even more outrageous now that the Stars are sitting on fairly solid ground in the Western Conference playoff race thanks in large part to the play of their top players.

Specifically Seguin, who was one of the main targets in Lites’ off the rails rant.

Please do not misinterpret that point.

This is not a commentary about how the criticism inspired their top players to play better.

That is an insult to the motivation of professional athletes and ignores the fact that, again, they were already carrying the bulk of the weight for the Stars early in the season. It is also an insult to their ability as players. They were highly productive NHL players before that, and would have continued to be whether or not those comments were ever made.

Top-tier players have the hardest job, the highest expectations, and the most pressure. When they only fulfill even 90 percent of those expectations they are going to get criticized for underperforming, even if their 90 percent is better than most everyone else’s 100 percent. That is what was happening with the Stars through the end of December.

Seguin and Benn may not have been on their usual scoring pace, but they were still outperforming everyone else on the team by a substantial margin, while also outscoring and outplaying their opponents on a nightly basis. At the end of December when Lites sounded off, the Stars were outscoring teams 24-11 at 5-on-5 play when Seguin and Benn were on the ice together.

The Stars’ goal differential without either of them was a minus-14 (34-48).

Where was the problem again?

In the 18 games since then, Seguin, Benn, and Alexander Radulov have still been the most productive players on the team.

Even though Seguin and Benn have been split apart a lot more often and used on separate lines, they’ve still outscored opponents by an 8-4 margin when they are together at 5-on-5. Without either on the ice the goal differential suffers an eight-goal swing (minus-4 … four for, eight against) in the other direction.

Seguin alone has 22 points in the 18 games since then and has been absolutely dynamite on a line with Radulov and is now on pace to exceed his normal career average for points in a season.

Benn’s offense hasn’t quite picked up, but given how much time he’s spent away from Seguin and Radulov and has been asked to carry his own line that probably says more about the lack of depth the Stars have assembled than anything else. And that, again, falls back on the job of the GM for not assembling more talent around his two franchise players.

After all of that drama caused by the CEO the perception of the Stars immediately became that they were a dysfunctional mess of an organization and a sad-sack underachieving team going that was going nowhere instead of what they actually are. What they actually are is a team that has a handful of high-end, impact players in Seguin, Radulov, Benn, John Klingberg and an emerging star on the blue line in Miro Heiskanen that is probably actually overachieving this season.

The lesson to take away from all of this: Maybe don’t publicly put your best players on blast for ruining your season unless you have a damn good reason for it. Because those best players are probably going to be the ones that end up saving your season in the end.

If Lites was so eagerly willing to call Seguin and Benn “f—— horse s—” for what he thought was them underachieving earlier in the season, he should be just as willing to publicly thank them (and especially Seguin) for the added gate revenue his team will get for making the playoffs on their backs and saving all of their jobs.

More: Stars’ CEO ire should be directed at GM, not Seguin and Benn

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.