Klingberg return could be boost Stars need to make playoffs

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For some time now, the Dallas Stars have ranked among the NHL’s most frustrating teams because, while they boast some outstanding high-end talent, they’ve rarely put it all together.

You might chalk a portion of that irked feeling to unfair expectations created by the dazzling early days with Tyler Seguin injected into the lineup, but still.

It’s probably unfair to dismiss the first season under Jim Montgomery as “same old, same old” for a simple reason: injuries.

To be more precise, the Stars – for all of their stumbles – hadn’t really dealt with the absence of near-Norris-level defenseman John Klingberg very often until 2018-19. He played every game in 2017-18, missed only two in 2016-17, and suited up for 76 in 2015-16, so missing six weeks is not a normal experience for the slick Swedish defenseman.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Klingberg is pumped to play against the Blackhawks on Thursday, representing his first bit of action since Nov. 8.

While rust might be a factor, Klingberg indicates that his recovered hand should be just about good as new, as he noted to The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (sub required).

“It can’t get any worse or re-injured by playing,” Klingberg said. “As long as there isn’t a shot to the exact same place at the exact same angle.”

(Aside: did anyone else hear ominous music in their head when they read about Klingberg saying the “exact same place at the exact same angle?” Probably just me, after reading Bobby Ryan discuss why he was unhappy that Kyle Turris was slashing at his hand[s] before their unexpected fight.)

Beyond wins and losses, the Stars have been disappointing because they merely haven’t always been as exciting on the ice as they seem on paper, considering the fact that they’re ranked sixth-lowest at goals for and fifth-lowest at goals against.

It’s easy to forget how much of a difference Klingberg can make in altering the pace of Stars games.

Through 16 games this season, Klingberg had a whopping 13 points. Some of that was unsustainable (11.6 is a very high shooting percentage for a defenseman, well above Klingberg’s already-fairly-high 7.3 career average), but Klingberg is one of the NHL’s most explosive scoring defensemen, however you slice it.

He was also seeing an even bigger role under Montgomery, averaging a substantial 25:03 TOI per game, up from last season’s previous career-high of 24:04. Losing an elite defenseman who played almost half of every Stars game? Yeah, that will do a number on your transition game, not to mention overall play (as Klingberg is excellent from a possession standpoint at this stage of his career).

It’s also enticing to realize that the Stars could rapidly approach the sort of modern, puck-moving defense that thrives in the current NHL.

Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen have both been taking on significant minutes lately, and could each make sensible partners for Klingberg, what with Klingberg being a right-handed blueliner and those two being lefties. (At the moment, it looks like Lindell will go with Klingberg.)

Now, sure, it would be even more exciting if Julius Honka would also get in that space-age, top-six mix, but maybe that would be too greedy?

Speaking of lineups, these thoughts bring up another note: the Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks points out that the Stars have only had all of Klingberg, Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov in the same lineup for seven of 34 games so far in 2018-19.

As of this writing, the Stars sit at ninth place in the West with a 17-14-3 record (37 points in 34 games). They’re two points behind second wild card Edmonton, who have 39 points in an extra game (18-14-3), so the Stars aren’t far off.

For all we know, Klingberg could stand as the difference between Dallas making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, or once again coming up painfully short.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Unlikely fight: Bobby Ryan vs. Kyle Turris

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File this Monday fight under “unexpected,” as Nashville Predators center Kyle Turris dropped the gloves with Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators.

Turris was once Ryan’s teammate with the Sens, but it’s unclear if that had anything to do with it. Either way, when you consider the players involved, this was a fairly passionate bout.

It looked like Ryan got the best of Turris, at one point seemingly leaving Turris dazed.

Via Hockey Fights, it’s been quite a while for Ryan, in particular, as his last fight happened against Kris Russell in March of the 2013-14 season.

Turris, meanwhile, has seen quite a remarkable array of opponents, ranging from Tanner Glass to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, with current teammate P.K. Subban also included.

After falling behind 3-0, the Predators were able to secure a standings point by sending the game to OT at 3-3. The Senators got the last laugh, however, as Thomas Chabot scored this beautiful overtime game-winner:

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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: Blackhawks hit bottom

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If you turn on any random Chicago Blackhawks game on any random night against any random opponent it is a good bet they are already going to be losing by two or three goals 10 minutes into the first period. It has been a constant trend for about two months now.

Sometimes they are able to push back a little and tie the game only to lose in backbreaking fashion, just as they have done in their most recent losses to the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens.

Sometimes they never push back and just get completely run out of the building.

Either way the result is the same — a loss. Those losses keep piling up at an alarming rate and are sending the Blackhawks toward what is looking to be their worst season in years.

Thanks to the seven-game losing streak they are carrying into the week the Blackhawks officially have the worst record (based on points percentage) in the entire league and are just 3-11-2 since firing Joel Quenneville.

In other words, things are bad. Really bad.

The problems are obvious. The good players that were part of the core that won three Stanley Cups in six years are older, more expensive and not as good as they once were (if they are even still on the team). Those larger contracts, combined with the salary cap, once again ripped apart the depth that always made the Blackhawks such a strong team.

The latter point is where a lot of the problems really start to show up. The Blackhawks went through salary cap purges before but were always able to find ways to restock the cupboards, often times to the point of them still being able to compete for, and even win, championships.

They have not done that over the past few years.

Just consider this question: Who is the last truly impactful and useful the Blackhawks have added to their organization through free agency or a trade? Have there been any over the past three or four years? The re-acquisition of Brandon Saad is probably the answer you could come up with because he is a fine, decent player. But when you had to give up an even better player (Artemi Panarin) to get him back that does not really help things.

Big contracts, an aging core, and no fresh talent entering the organization is a bad combination, and for this week it has the Blackhawks at the bottom of the PHT Power Rankings. They may be there for a while, too.

On to the rest of the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Quite simply the best hockey team in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are early season MVP candidates, Steven Stamkos is a point-per-game player right behind them, and they are 11-3-0 since their Vezina Trophy finalist goalie has been injured. That includes the six-game winning streak they carry into the week. They also are coming off of a dominant 7-1 win against a really good Colorado Avalanche team.

2. Winnipeg Jets — The Jets are 10-4-1 in their past 15 games and are averaging more than four goals per game during that stretch. There may not be a better collection of top-line forward talent anywhere in the league.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs — Not too worried about the fact they haven’t won since William Nylander returned. The biggest concern here, just like last season, is that Frederik Andersen gets worn down from the workload he is being asked to carry. His play will determine how far they go in the playoffs.

4. Nashville Predators — They have cooled off a bit in recent weeks but that has coincided with the team being crushed by injuries. When healthy this is still one of the league’s best teams.

5. Washington Capitals — The champs are starting to get on a roll and Alex Ovechkin is still scoring goals at an unprecedented pace given his age.

The Surprises

6. Colorado Avalanche — Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon are both on pace for more than 120 points this season. Doubtful they will maintain those numbers over 82 games, but the fact they have done it over even 30 games is incredible.

7. Calgary Flames — Have to be honest, did not see the Flames being the team to crawl to the top of the Pacific Division at any point this season. How long will they remain there?

[Related: Are the Flames ready to contend?]

8. Buffalo Sabres — When every game you play is decided by a single goal sometimes you are going to get the breaks, and sometimes you are not. Thirteen of the Sabres’ past 15 games have been one-goal games, a stretch that has seen them win 10 games in a row and then also lose five games in a row.  They are not as good as they looked during the winning streak and they are not as bad as they have looked during the losing streak. Things balance out.

Strong Playoff Teams

9. Boston Bruins — They are still going to have to find some secondary scoring if they are going to be a serious threat to win the Stanley Cup.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Sergei Bobrovsky picked a terrible time to have his worst season as a starter. How good would the Blue Jackets be this season if he was playing at his normal level?

The Middle Ground

11. Vegas Golden Knights –– They might still be the best team in the Pacific Division and when all is said and done will probably end up winning it.

12. Dallas Stars — The rapid emergence of rookie defenseman Miro Heiskanen has helped make up for the absence of John Klingberg.

13. Anaheim Ducks — John Gibson should be a finalist for MVP at this point, while Daniel Sprong has made a nice little impact in his first few games with the team. Nice move in the shootout on Sunday night to help pick up the win.

14. Edmonton Oilers — If this team makes the playoffs Connor McDavid should be a unanimous MVP winner. He is doing even more than he did a year ago.

Related: Seven stunning numbers from the first two months of the NHL season]

15. San Jose Sharks — They have won three out of their past four and they don’t have a tough schedule coming up this week. Is this where it starts to turn around?

16. Montreal Canadiens — The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade gets ripped (and deservedly so) which makes it kind of easy to forget that Weber is still pretty good. He is just older, has a worse contract, and might be starting to break down a bit physically. Still, he can play a little. He has five points in his first six games since returning to the lineup this season.

17. Pittsburgh Penguins — Every time it looks like they are going to get everything together and go on a roll they put together a terrible showing. Still, they have picked up 13 out of a possible 20 points over their past 10 games.

18. Minnesota Wild — They have some concerns right now, with the biggest potentially being whatever is wrong with starting goalie Devan Dubnyk.

19. New York Islanders — Still not sure they have enough offense to emerge from the pack and make the playoffs this season.

20. Carolina Hurricanes — The Hurricanes can not catch a break in goal. Curtis McElhinney came out of nowhere to solidify the position for a little bit, played extremely well, and then ended up injured. Now it is back to the Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek duo that was not working earlier this season

21. Arizona Coyotes — It is really tough to see the Coyotes hanging around in the Western Conference playoff race given the injury situation with Antti Raanta.

22. Detroit Red Wings — Dylan Larkin is on track for the best season of his career and several of their potential trade chips (Gustav Nyquist, Jimmy Howard) are having productive seasons. So they have that going for them.

23. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist is still getting it done, he just doesn’t have enough around him for it to really matter.

24. Philadelphia Flyers — Now that they have a new general manager in place it will be interesting to see where this team goes from here and where “bias for action” takes them.

[Related: Chuck Fletcher’s plate will be full as new Flyers’ GM]

25. Ottawa Senators — Losing Matt Duchene and Bobby Ryan to injury for the foreseeable future is really going to hurt what has been a surprisingly good offense this season.

26. Florida Panthers — With better goaltending this season they may not be needing another second half surge just to get back into playoff contention.

Lose For Hughes

27. Los Angeles Kings — The worst goal scoring team in the league by a huge margin and the third-fewest shots on goal per game. They are redefining what bad offensive hockey is in this era.

28. Vancouver Canucks — Since starting the season 10-6-2 the Canucks have managed to go only 3-10-1 over their past 14 games. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are still studs, though.

29. New Jersey Devils — Taylor Hall has to be having flashbacks to his Oilers days.

30. St. Louis Blues — After getting blown out on Sunday the Blues sounded like a completely broken team. They are still better than their rivals.

31. Chicago Blackhawks — Maybe Jeremy Colliton goes on to be a good NHL head coach, but right now the decision to fire Quenneville just looks comical.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

NHL injury roundup: Matt Duchene ‘week-to-week’ with groin injury

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The Ottawa Senators lost Matt Duchene and Bobby Ryan to injury in their most recent game against the Montreal Canadiens, and according to the team they are both going to be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

The Senators announced on Saturday that Duchene has been placed on injured reserve with a groin injury and is considered “week-to-week,” while Ryan is sidelined with a concussion.

There is no timetable for Ryan’s return to the lineup.

These are two pretty significant injuries for the Senators. Duchene, currently playing in a contract year, is having one of the best seasons of his career and is the team’s leading scorer with 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 29 games. It is extremely unlikely that he will re-sign with the team before becoming a free agent, and given the nature of the organization’s ongoing rebuild he will be a prime trade candidate at some point this season.

[Related: 10 players helping themselves the most in contract years]

Ryan is the team’s sixth-leading scorer with 18 points.

The one thing the Senators have had going for them this season has been the fact their offense has been among the best in the league. Losing Ryan, and especially Duchene, is going to put a significant dent in that. The Senators have lost six of their past nine games entering Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins and are currently 26th in the NHL with a .466 points percentage. They do not own a first-round pick in the 2019 draft as it was sent to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the Duchene trade a year ago.

Other injury news around the NHL this weekend…

— Ottawa’s opponent on Saturday, Pittsburgh, will be without one of its top forwards in Patric Hornqvist as he is dealing with an upper-body injury. He exited Pittsburgh’s win against the New York Islanders on Thursday after playing just one period. There is no word on what the injury is, except for the Penguins saying it is not related to the concussion that recently sidelined him. On Tuesday he recorded the fastest hat trick in Penguins franchise history.

— The Philadelphia Flyers will not have star center Sean Couturier on Saturday due to a lower-body injury. He is considered day-to-day.

— Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson will not play on Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, missing his second consecutive game due to a concussion. Wilson was injured on Tuesday night when he was hit by Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves. Reaves was ejected for the hit but not suspended.

— The Chicago Blackhawks activated defenseman Connor Murphy from injured reserve and replaced him on the IR list (retroactive to Dec. 5) with Gustav Forsling who is out with a shoulder injury.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Senators’ Duchene, Ryan injured in loss

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The Ottawa Senators lost more than just a game on Thursday night.

Injuries to Matt Duchene (lower body) and Bobby Ryan (upper body) during a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens lingered long after the final whistle had blown.

In his post-game scrum with the media, Senators coach Guy Boucher said that both Duchene and Ryan could have picked up long-term injuries in the game, according to the Ottawa Sun’s Don Brennan.

Duchene was chasing down a puck that ended up being an icing call. There wasn’t much to it, but Duchene pulled up lame on the play and exited the game.

Ryan’s injury came as he was skating through the neutral zone. Brett Kulak of the Canadiens was bringing the puck up the ice and Ryan ran into his shoulder with his head.

You can see the footage here:

Boucher said that updates on both players would come in the next few days.

The loss of Duchene, particular, would be a bitter pill to swallow for the Senators. He leads the team with 34 points and is second on the team in goals with 12.

Ryan has six goals and 18 points so far this season.

The Sens are back in action again on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck