Alexander Radulov

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How Pavelski signing has impacted Sharks, Stars

It’s going to be a big night in San Jose on Saturday as former captain Joe Pavelski will make his first return to the Shark Tank as a visiting player.

Pavelski and the Stars are rolling in on a six-game winning streak and have been one of the league’s best teams since a 1-7-1 start had them buried in the Western Conference standings.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have never really been able to get on track this season and are now in desperation mode as they look to salvage what has quickly become a lost and wasted season. They are going to need to do a complete 180 in the second half just to have even a fighting chance of making the playoffs.

With Pavelski set to make his return, let’s take a quick look how his departure from San Jose has impacted both teams so far this season.

The Sharks never replaced Pavelski’s production

Very little has gone right for the Sharks this season. The goaltending has been bad again, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have rapidly aged, a lot of forwards have taken a step back, and now Logan Couture is sidelined for weeks with an ankle injury.

They also had 38 goals from last year’s team walk out the door when Pavelski signed his three-year contract with the Stars. Even if you assumed (correctly, as it turns out) that Pavelski was going to regress from that number, that goal production from a year ago was still a significant part of the Sharks’ success. He was the leading goal-scorer on the second-highest scoring team in the league, and all of that production just suddenly disappeared. Add in the free agency departure of another underrated forward, Joonas Donskoi, and the Sharks lost nearly 20 percent of their goal total from last year’s team. The only meaningful addition they brought in from outside the organization was a reunion with 40-year-old Patrick Marleau four games into the season. That was never going to be enough. And it hasn’t been.

The Sharks were hoping that at least some of that production could be replaced from within with bigger roles for some of their young players, but it just hasn’t happened. At the halfway point of the season Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, Marcus Sorensen, and even All-Star Tomas Hertl are all on pace for less production this season. The result is a team that is currently the sixth-lowest scoring team in the league (2.65 goals per game).

Maybe the Sharks were right to not match (or exceed) Pavelski’s offer from Dallas. Maybe it would have turned out to be another big contract for an aging, declining player on a team that now seems to have a few of them.

But those goals last year still happened and still need replaced. The Sharks not only lost them, they never found a way to replace them.

Pavelski’s impact with the Stars

Pavelski’s addition in Dallas was significant because he filled their biggest need — scoring depth.

The 2018-19 Stars were one of the most top-heavy teams in the league offensively (and the most top-heavy playoff team), relying almost entirely on Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov to carry the offense. They were so top-heavy that no other forward on the team scored more than 30 points over the full season. Finding someone that could provide a real secondary scoring threat was a must.

That is where Pavelski came in.

While no one should have expected a 35-year-old Pavelski to make a run at the 40-goal mark again, he at least provided some depth that did not previously exist. Whether or not he has provided that depends on how you want to look at it. From a raw numbers perspective, his production is probably viewed as a disappointment. He enters Saturday’s game with only eight goals and 18 total points in 44 games.

As down as those numbers are, it is important to keep in mind that is STILL better than what the Stars were getting a year ago from their depth players. Keep in mind, only four Stars forwards scored more than eight goals during the entire 2018-19 season. Pavelski’s numbers also include a brutal 13-game stretch to start the season where he was virtually invisible offensively. He has been been better since.

Once he started chipping in more offense, the wins followed.

Any intangible impact?

Pavelski has always been held in high regard as a leader, and both teams will probably have a reason to argue on behalf of that. San Jose could easily argue his departure has left a hole in their room. The Stars could argue they needed his sort of veteran presence. Sharks beat writer Kevin Kurz touched on this a little bit in his lead-up for Saturday’s game for The Athletic.

There very well could be something to that. But in the end it’s probably a lot more black-and-white than that.

The Stars were a good team last season without Pavelski and are a good team again this season with him. They are winning with a nearly identical recipe — good defense, great goaltending, offense when and where they can get it.

The Sharks were a good team with Pavelski that also had a huge flaw. They never fixed that flaw, then added to it by losing 52 goals from their lineup with almost none coming back in.

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.

 

 

Cotton Bowl Winter Classic an unforgettable experience for all

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DALLAS — Under cloudy skies and with 85,630 fans inside Cotton Bowl Stadium, the Predators and Stars played one of the more memorable outdoor games in NHL history.

The 2020 Winter Classic had it all and a lot happened as the fans were still settling into their seats. An ejection, two goals, a denied penalty shot, a comeback, horses, longhorns and pig races — yes, pig races — were all part of an afternoon of outdoor hockey in Texas.

Before and after the game, those in attendance were able to experience the fan fest at The State Fair of Texas Midway. Along with the usual carnival items like corn dogs and merchandise, there were attractions like the Texas Star Ferris Wheel, the Top o’ Texas Tower and the Texas Skyway. Former Stars players Mike Modano and Brad Lukowich signed autographs and played bubble hockey with fans.

The party outside was only the beginning. As is tradition, the NHL dressed up the Cotton Bowl to really give it a Texas feel. On one side was a country dancing floor, which featured dancers and table tops and bar stools for performers. There were also the boots of Big Tex, the 55-foot talking cowboy, on display and a mechanical bull that was put to good use. Surrounding the rink was split-rail fencing for a true ranch vibe. 

But the real highlight of the setup was next to the walkway where the players entered the field. That was the location of something that we’ve never seen before at an NHL game: pig racing.

Ro-ham Josi, Tyler Swine-in, Ryan Jo-ham-sen, Andrew Hog-liano, and Pork-a Rinne were some of the competitors vying to be the pig racing champion. Most players didn’t really notice what was going on there during the game. Then there was Stars forward Jason Dickinson.

“I saw it on the big screen at one point,” he said. “I had to look away. I knew I’d get in trouble if I kept laughing.”

The racing pigs were just another part of the in-game entertainment that didn’t take place on the ice. Juggers, a unicycle performer, and small children riding sheep were also included in the 2020 Winter Classic experience. There was something Texas-sized and Texas-related happening at all times during stoppages and intermissions.

“I understand Twitter is going nuts in a good way about the pig races,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said between periods. “We tried to blend Texas and hockey. Each year we try and learn something and do it a little bit better.”

Above and beyond expectations

When the NHL was planning the event, they thought about maxing out capacity at 65,000 believing they couldn’t fill the entire stadium. But when tickets went on sale they saw the incredible demand and decided to open more sections of the stadium. It paid off and now the sold-out Stars-Predators Winter Classic ranks only behind the 2014 Maple Leafs-Red Wings game at Michigan Stadium in terms of attendance for an NHL game.

“I think the atmosphere speaks for itself,” Bettman said. “It has been nothing short of spectacular.”

And it wasn’t a sea of green in the seats. There were plenty of Predators jerseys to be seen in and around Dallas this week and throughout the stadium.

“There were more people here in yellow from Nashville than would fit in Bridgestone Arena,”  Bettman said. “So that’s how well Predators fans travel. All in all, it has been sensational.”

The show of support will only boost Nashville’s chances of landing a future outdoor game, something the Commissioner said the League has been working on.

Stars enjoyed it all

Home teams usually have a tough time in Winter Classic. The Stars are only the fourth team out of 12 to host the New Year’s Day spectacle and come away with a victory. Being able to play in front of your own fans in such a unique setting and win will stay with the players forever.

“Having it on home soil and the fans came out in great numbers and it was a lot of fun for us,” said Stars goaltender Ben Bishop. “To get the win is just that cherry on top. We were just saying how much more fun it is to win any game, but a game like this, of this magnitude. To do it front of our home fans in Dallas, which is what this whole event is all about, just makes it that much better.”

The sound level was certainly something new for the Stars players. As loud as American Airlines Center can be, it was nothing compared to the decibel levels reached in the Cotton Bowl. Tyler Seguin said that he’d never heard anything louder than the crowd after Alexander Radulov’s tiebreaking power play goal  in the third period.

The NHL took its crown jewel event south for the first time and it worked. The atmosphere, the visuals, and the game itself — it all worked.

“Everything and more. They did everything right,” Dickinson said. “The NHL marketing department, whoever puts it all together for us, it was an unbelievable experience you’ll never forget. I certainly won’t.”

MORE WINTER CLASSIC COVERAGE:
Stars win 2020 Winter Classic
Outdoor hockey in Texas? Sure thang, and was a hoot to boot

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Face-Off: Perron’s impressive season; Huberdeau scores in fours

Every Monday morning, the PHT Face-Off breaks down different trends and topics around the NHL.

Here’s this week’s stories:

• Predators defense leading the way

The Predators will travel to Dallas to play in this year’s Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl. When that game starts, Nashville’s top two leading scorers will be defensemen, which is pretty unique. Roman Josi has an incredible 39 points in 38 games this season, while Ryan Ellis is second with 28 points in 38 contests.

As impressive as that production is from the back end, it’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for the work the forwards have put in offensively in 2019-20. In fairness to Filip Forsberg, who is one point behind Ellis, was forced to miss six games with an injury. Had he been in the lineup for those contests, he probably would be second on the team in scoring.

But others like Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Mikael Granlund and Kyle Turris don’t get the benefit of the doubt. If the Preds are going to get back into the playoff picture, they’ll need their top forwards to start scoring at a higher clip.

This Winter Classic matchup isn’t just a fun little regular season game. It’s massive. The Predators are chasing the Stars, who are in the third spot in the Central Division. Dallas is currently six points up on Nashville, so Wednesday’s game will be a four-pointer.

• Stars’ stars not producing as much offense

When you think of the Stars, you think of a team with high-end offensive players like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. They also have the next wave of stars coming, as Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz have made an impact on the roster, too. But the Stars haven’t found the back of the net as much as you’d think.

Heading into this week, the Stars rank 26th in goals scored, with 107 in 40 games. None of the teams below them in that category are in the playoffs (Los Angeles, Columbus, Anaheim, New Jersey and Detroit). Credit to Dallas, they’ve found a way to keep the puck out of their net, but their best players haven’t put up hose heavy offensive numbers.

Seguin, who leads the team in scoring, has 32 points in 40 games. That puts him on pace to hit the 66-point mark this season. Even though Dallas plays more of a conservative game now, that still seems rather low, especially considering that offense has been up across the board in the NHL over the last two seasons.

In fairness to Seguin, he seems to be picking up the offensive slack lately, as he’s scored five goals in his last six games. He also has nine points in his last eight contests.

• What a year for David Perron

Nobody really expected Perron to put up more points than Seguin in the first half of the season, but that’s exactly what’s happened. Between 2014 and 2018, the Blues forward played for five different organizations. He’s always been a relatively productive offensive player, but he just didn’t last long at any of his stops during that time. Now, he owns a Stanley Cup ring and he’s a point-per-game player in the first half of the season.

Perron has picked up 40 points in 40 games and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. The 31-year-old is riding a six-game point streak and he’s racked up 10 points during that stretch. He was nearly a point-per-game player during his one season in Vegas in 2017-18, but he was more of a set up guy that year (he had 16 goals and 50 points in 70 games). This year, he’s already found the back of the net 16 times, so he’s finding different ways to contribute.

His third stint with the Blues may not last as long as his first one did (six years), but it looks like he’s here to stay for now. It’s been an impressive year for this veteran.

Jonathan Huberdeau likes the number four

The Panthers forward probably put together the quietest 90-point season in NHL history last year, when he scored 92 points in 82 games. Somehow, he’s on pace to eclipse that number by a mile this season. The 26-year-old is flying high right now. He’s up to 16 goals and 53 points in 38 games, which puts him on pace to score 35 goals and 115 points.

He’s also been lighting it up over the last two weeks. Last night’s four-point effort against the Montreal Canadiens was his third four-point outing since Dec. 16! As of right now, Huberdeau is sixth in league scoring behind Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Nathan MacKinnon. That’s some elite company.

Because he plays in a non-traditional hockey market, he’s probably the most underrated superstar in the NHL. The Panthers also haven’t had much playoff success during his time in Florida, but you’d have to think that better days are ahead with him, Aleksander Barkov and company leading the charge.

What’s coming up this week?
Sergei Bobrovsky goes back to Columbus for the first time since signing with Florida this summer. Tue. Dec. 31, 7 p.m. ET
— McDavid vs. Eichel, Thu. Jan. 2, 7 p.m. ET
— Eastern Conference Final rematch between Washington and Carolina. Fri. Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET

NHL on NBC
— Winter Classic: Predators vs. Stars, Wed. Jan. 1, 2 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
— Devils vs. Islanders, Thu. Jan. 2, 7 p.m. ET
— Blues vs. Avalanche, Thu. Jan. 2, 9:30 p.m. ET
— Red Wings vs. Blackhawks, Sun. Jan. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET
— Predators vs. Ducks, Sun. Jan. 5, 10 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Huberdeau sparks Panthers; Stars complete comeback

Jonathan Huberdeau #11 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his second goal of the game
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Three Stars

1) Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

After recording two assists in the first half of the Panthers’ 6-5 win against the Montreal Canadiens, Huberdeau added two goals of his own in a 35-second span in the second period. The 26-year-old forward benefitted from a fortuitous bounce when his cross-ice pass attempt deflected off a Canadiens player into the back of the net. Moments later, Huberdeau wired a wrist shot to extend Florida’s lead to 5-3 at the time. Huberdeau is currently the Panthers’ leading scorer and is well on his way to matching or surpassing his 92-point total from last season.

2) Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils

When selected at the top of the draft, you are expected to be one of the players leading the way for that organization. Sunday, Hughes recorded his first NHL overtime-winning goal and helped lead the Devils to a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. The 18-year-old forward showed a lot of maturity during his breakaway attempt, wisely keeping the puck out of reach from the chasing Senators skater. The simple, yet effective move to the forehand allowed Hughes to lift the puck over Craig Anderson’s glove. Hughes also recorded an assist earlier in the game giving him his third multi-point game of the season.

3) Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

In their final game before the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, the Stars erased a two-goal third-period deficit in a 4-2 win over the Coyotes. Benn had a nifty goal and added an assist during the comeback. The Stars captain showed off his net-front skills as he collected a loose puck in front of the crease then cleverly kicked it over to his backhand to help jumpstart the rally and get Dallas on the scoreboard early in the third period.

Other notable performances from Sunday

John Tortorella – The Blue Jackets were the recipient of some bad fortune, and Tortorella let everyone know the facts of the situation in a clear, concise message after the game. More on the referee’s costly mistake here

Jaden Schwartz – The undersized forward scored two goals Sunday as the Blues captured their eighth straight victory.

David Pastrnak – The NHL’s leading goal-scorer picked up his 29th goal and 29th assist in the Boston Bruins’ 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres.

Tyler Myers – The defenseman had two goals early in the first period to help Vancouver start with a 2-0 lead against the Calgary Flames.

Highlights of the Night

Jake DeBrusk – Two power-play goals in 18 seconds helped the Bruins extend their point streak to seven games.

Jakub Voracek – The Flyers forward had two assists but his pass to set up Kevin Hayes’ overtime-winning goal was a thing of beauty. From the top of the left circle in the defensive zone, Voracek fired a pass up ice to Hayes as Anaheim made a poor line change. The Flyers improved to 5-1-0 in their last six games.

Andrej Sekera’s blind pass from behind the net set up Alexander Radulov’s game-tying goal.

Brayden Point found the smallest of openings when he scored the go-ahead goal in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 victory against Detroit.

Stats of the Night

NHL Scores

St. Louis Blues 4, Winnipeg Jets 1

New Jersey Devils 4, Ottawa Senators 3 (OT)

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (SO)

New York Islanders 3, Minnesota Wild 1

Boston Bruins 3, Buffalo Sabres 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Detroit Red Wings 1

Florida Panthers 6, Montreal Canadiens 5

Dallas Stars 4, Arizona Coyotes 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Anaheim Ducks 1 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 5, Calgary Flames 2

The Buzzer: Markstrom stops 49 for Canucks; Foegele dominates

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Three Stars

1. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. He is doing everything he can to earn himself a big payday this summer. Markstrom helped the Canucks extend their current winning streak to four games while also jumping back into a playoff spot in the Western Conference. He stopped 49 out of 51 shots in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, stealing two huge points for his team. He has really established himself as a quality NHL goalie over the past couple of years, and this might have been one of his best games yet.

2. Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks. He needed a huge game, and he delivered one. He recorded his first career hat trick to help lift the Sharks to a much-needed 6-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. You can read all about Meier’s game, as well as the Sharks’ big win, right here.

3. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. Foegele was, quite simply, a beast for the Hurricanes on Saturday night. He finished with four points (two goals, including a shorthanded goal, and two assists), was a plus-four, and attempted seven shots during the Hurricanes’ 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals. It is the first four-point game of his NHL career and only the second time he has recorded more than two points in a game. The win helped the Hurricanes keep pace in the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division and snapped what had been a three-game losing streak.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • Ryan Strome had four points (including two goals) and Tony DeAngelo scored an overtime winner for the New York Rangers as they put an end to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ winning streak.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning overcame a brutal start that saw them give up the first 18 shots of the game (and two goals) to earn a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Alex Killorn scored two goals and Victor Hedman had four assists in the win.
  • Bryan Rust scored two more goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they held on for a 6-4 win against the Nashville Predators. Jake Guentzel‘s power play goal with one minute to play in regulation was the game-winning goal.
  • Mark Stone scored two goals in a dominant Vegas Golden Knights win to help them jump ahead of the Arizona Coyotes for first place in the Pacific Division.
  • Mike Hoffman had three points for the Florida Panthers as they overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings, 5-4, handing the Red Wings their fifth consecutive defeat.
  • Ben Bishop made 42 saves for the Dallas Stars and Alexander Radulov scored the shootout winner in a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Highlights of the Night

Mika Zibanejad is on a roll for the Rangers right now and this second period goal off the rush was a real beauty.

Mario Ferraro and Joel Kellman both scored their first career goals for the Sharks on Saturday.

The one highlight of the night for the Coyotes was this tic-tac-toe passing play to set up Michael Grabner for a goal.

Factoids

  • Steven Stamkos recorded his 800th career point for the Lightning on Saturday night.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored the 256th power play goal of his career for the Washington Capitals. That moves him ahead of Teemu Selanne for third on the all-time list. [Capitals PR]
  • Marc-Andre Fleury recorded the 454th win of his career to tie Curtis Joseph for the sixth-most wins in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Joe Thornton recorded career assist 1,079 for the Sharks, moving him into a tie with Adam Oates for seventh most in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Markstrom’s 49 saves were the most by a Canucks goalie since Roberto Luongo stopped 54 shots in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals. Luongo was eventually traded for Markstrom. [NHL PR]

Scores

Dallas Stars 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 4 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Montreal Canadiens 4
Florida Panthers 5, Detroit Red Wings 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 6, Nashville Predators 4
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Washington Capitals 4
Vancouver Canucks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Arizona Coyotes 1
San Jose Sharks 6, Philadelphia Flyers 1

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.