John Klingberg

Stars hold off Kings, extend winning streak to five

Anton Khudobin saved his best for the final seconds to help preserve a 2-1 victory for the Dallas Stars.

Jamie Benn and Blake Comeau scored 37 seconds apart early in the second period as Dallas erased a one-goal deficit and extended its winning streak to five games.

Anze Kopitar netted his 16th of the season, but the Kings fell for the third straight game. Jonathan Quick had 30 saves.

Lindell stays hot

The Stars defenseman has been collecting assists left and right during a four-game point streak. Lindell picked up another two helpers Wednesday, extending his total to seven during the stretch and 16 on the season.

John Klingberg has not played since the 2020 Winter Classic and Lindell has stepped up to provide offense from the backend in his absence.

In this day and age, every NHL team needs mobile defensemen that can push the pace. Lindell has provided that and more during the five-game winning streak.

Johns close to returning

Stephen Johns has reported to the AHL for a three-game conditioning stint. The 27-year-old D-man has been sidelined since 2018 with post-traumatic headaches.

“You’re talking about a young man who is 6-foot-4, he can skate, he can shoot a puck, he’s a physical presence,” Stars GM Jim Nill told the team’s website. “He’s what every team is looking for. He’s a good person. He brings a lot to the table. When we signed him, he was coming off a very good year for us and we thought he was going to be a big part of our top four. … Now, we have an opportunity to bring him back.”

If Johns does return to the NHL, the Stars will get an extra boost on the backend before evaluating their strategy for the Trade Deadline.

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

Predators, Stars ready for unique atmosphere of Winter Classic

DALLAS — When the NHL decided to take the Winter Classic to Texas they could have faced a handful of weather challenges putting the game on.

Rain, snow, warm temperatures, New Year’s Day could have posed challenges in building and maintaining a hockey rink inside a college football stadium. But outside of a rain storm that caused some a do-over of making the ice last weekend, the weather has been good and the issues appear to be minimal ahead for the Predators and Stars when they meet at Cotton Bowl Stadium on Wednesday (1 p.m. ET; NBC).

Both teams got a sense of their unique surroundings during Tuesday afternoon practices. The sun was setting, so glare did not become a big factor. The forecast for the game calls for clouds, which means seeing the puck might be a little easier, especially if you’re Ben Bishop or Pekka Rinne. Players were sure to test the boards and see how the puck reacts in order to get an idea before the game starts.

The other area of concern was looking around the rink and realizing that unlike an NHL arena the seats at Cotton Bowl Stadium are a decent ways away from the glass.

“The crowd is not going to be on the glass, so that’s going to be a little bit different,” said Stars defenseman John Klingberg. “But at the same time if you look up you’re going to see a lot more people. I don’t know what to expect [Wednesday] but I think it’s going to be loud and a lot of people and a lot of fun.”

“The thing that surprised me was the depth perception,” said Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis. “You’re shooting the puck and instead of looking two feet behind the glass and seeing a seat you’re now looking 40-50 yards behind. It kind of threw me for a loop for a bit.”

[LIVESTREAM: COVERAGE BEGINS AT 1 P.M. ET ON NBC]

Goalies will have their own challenges. As long as the sun stays away glare won’t be a concern, but how the stanchions react to pucks being fired off of them will be interesting to watch early on.

“I think it’s very important, clearly, for the goalies to get out there and see the puck coming at them in the daylight, and the guys getting used to that,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “It’s just getting accustomed, a little bit more comfortable on outdoor ice.”

Since mild temperatures are expected and no rain or snow is in the forecast, there likely won’t be a big need for extra gloves or undershirts for players as we’ve seen in other outdoor games. The equipment staffs are well-prepared to deal with any issues that arise once puck drops with extra everything packed. They want to allow the players to focus solely on the game — a game that will take each player time to get used to the unique environment.

“This is an amazing wonderful event but when the puck drops, you’ve got to play,” Bowness said. “And if we have to play through climatizing ourselves with the surroundings, hey, that’s what we do.”

MORE WINTER CLASSIC COVERAGE:
2020 Winter Classic by the numbers
Stars seeking consistency in second half under Bowness
Predators focused on points to dig out of standings hole

Watch the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars at the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday, January 1 at 1 p.m. ET only on NBC, NBC Sports and the NBC Sports app.

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire and Brian Boucher will have the call from the Cotton Bowl. Mike Tirico will host the network’s on-site Winter Classic pre-game coverage alongside the NHL Live studio team of host Kathryn Tappen, and analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp. Tirico will interview members of 1999 Stanley Cup Champion Stars team on-site during intermission of coverage on NBC.

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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.

Stars seeking consistency in second half under Bowness

DALLAS — It’s been a bit of a weird season so far for the Stars. A 1-7-1 start was followed by a run of 14 wins in 16 games. That was followed up with four straight losses and then three wins in a row.

That third win in a row on Dec. 10 was the start of a new era in Dallas following the sudden dismissal of head coach Jim Montgomery. Assistant coach Rick Bowness has been at the wheel on an interim basis and the transition has been okay with the Stars 5-3-1 since the change.

The Stars sit third in the Central Division with 40 games played as they prepare for the 2020 Winter Classic against the Predators at the Cotton Bowl (1 p.m. ET; NBC) on New Year’s Day. 

It’s only been nine games since the hockey world and the Stars were stunned by the Montgomery news, but the players are working through it.

“It’s still a growing process. We’re trying to get better every day here,” said Stars defenseman John Klingberg. “We’ve been having a few games where we get the points we want to, but we haven’t played the way we want to. That’s a good thing that we can still get points when we don’t play as good.”

No one has coached more NHL games than Bowness, who will have been a head coach in the league for five decades as of New Year’s Day, joining only Pat Quinn and Scotty Bowman in that category. The responsibilities have certainly increased moving from an assistant’s role to taking charge of the entire team, but the players know him after he came on board a month after Montgomery’s hiring in June 2018.

[LIVESTREAM: COVERAGE BEGINS AT 1 P.M. ET ON NBC]

Stars goaltender Ben Bishop, who was with Bowness in Tampa for four seasons, hasn’t seen a different side to the head coach since the change. Bowness has kept his upbeat personality and is always the loudest guy in the room when he greets his players in the morning.

The voice in charge behind the bench may be different now, but things have very much stayed the same for the Stars. Considering the circumstances, being able to call on someone like Bowness has been huge in keeping the team from heading in a bad direction.

“It’s kind of one of those things, even though he is a coach everybody has their own job to do,” Bishop said. “When a coach gets fired or let go you still have your job to do. I think guys continue to do their jobs and the players are the ones who go out there and execute the gameplan. As long as the players go out there and do that you’ll have a pretty good chance to win.”

The situation last season for the Stars was about adjusting to a new system under a new head coach. That took time for the Stars, who didn’t get going until last January during a second half that propelled them to within a victory of the Western Conference Final. The experience of overcoming that obstacle has helped this season, and having a dressing room full of veterans who have seen everything the NHL can offer has ensured that they remain competitive in a tough division.

“We have a good team in here,” said Joe Pavelski. “We just have a lot of honest hockey players, a lot of good people in this organization, in this room. The start, we didn’t like that. You put yourselves in such a deep hole and then we’re as hot as anyone for a while. And there’s been a few times where we turn a corner and we might get a little separation but we’ve always fallen back to the pack. 

“So we’re right there. [We’re] just a resilient group. You’ve got different ups and downs but we’ve had some extremes at some times this year. We’re looking to get some kind of consistency here in the second half.”

MORE: 2020 Winter Classic by the numbers

Watch the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars at the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday, January 1 at 1 p.m. ET only on NBC, NBC Sports and the NBC Sports app.

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire and Brian Boucher will have the call from the Cotton Bowl. Mike Tirico will host the network’s on-site Winter Classic pre-game coverage alongside the NHL Live studio team of host Kathryn Tappen, and analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp. Tirico will interview members of 1999 Stanley Cup Champion Stars team on-site during intermission of coverage on NBC.

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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.

The Buzzer: Avalanche streaking; Golden Knights hold on for win

Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights

The slightest mistake during three-on-three overtime hockey could be costly and Pacioretty benefitted from a poor Dallas Stars line change on Friday evening. Defenseman Shea Theodore sent a beautiful stretch pass to help No. 67 get behind the Stars skaters and have a clean breakaway. Then, Pacioretty forced Ben Bishop to leave the crease before performing a highly-skilled maneuver in the Golden Knights’ 3-2 victory.

2) Valeri Nichuskin, Colorado Avalanche

The goal Nichuskin scored was nothing spectacular in Colorado’s 3-1 against New Jersey, but the play he made to receive the puck in the neutral zone was impressive. While skating up ice and looking to his right, Nichuskin blindly received a puck on his backhand, before gaining momentum and entering the offensive zone. Without the highly-skilled play, the Russian forward never would have had the scoring opportunity.

3) Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

Benn showed why he is one of the premiere power forwards in the NHL late in the third period to help the Stars force overtime against the Golden Knights. Dallas’ captain raced to the corner after a faceoff to control a loose puck before sending it over to Tyler Seguin. Then, Benn boxed out William Karlsson in front of the Vegas net and positioned himself to redirect Seguin’s pass to even the score at two and help the Stars earn a point in the OT loss.

Other notable performances from Friday

Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche

The Czech goaltender made 37 saves in his ninth win of the season and fifth victory in his last six appearances. Several NHL teams are starting to adopt a two-goalie philosophy and Francouz is proving to the Avalanche that he is worthy of more playing time even when Philipp Grubauer returns to the starting lineup.

Highlight of the night

Nathan MacKinnon faked a slap shot and delivered a perfect touch pass to set up Gabriel Landeskog in the slot to open the scoring for the Avalanche.

Factoids

  • Taylor Fedun opened the scoring in his return to the Stars’ lineup and has collected a point in seven of his nine home games this season [NHL PR].

  • The Golden Knights own the best record in NHL history by a franchise through its first 100 regular-season road games in terms of wins, points and point percentage [NHL PR].

  • The Avalanche are the only NHL team with 10 wins at home and 10 wins on the road so far this season
  • MacKinnon reached the 50-point mark in his 32nd game of the season, one fewer than when he hit the milestone in 2018-19 (33 GP) [NHL PR].

Note:

  • Stars defenseman John Klingberg is expected to be available Saturday after he missed Friday’s game due to a family illness.

[RELATED: Devils keep Hall out of lineup as trade rumors continue]

NHL Scores
Golden Knights 3, Stars 2
Avalanche 3, Devils 1

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

NHL on NBCSN: Stars’ goaltending playing pivotal role in point streak

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

On the morning of Oct. 19, ahead of their game in Philadelphia, the picture of the Stars’ season was an ugly one. Through nine games they had one win and their goaltending wasn’t doing them any favors.

Heading into that Saturday night date with the Flyers, Anton Khudobin and Ben Bishop had combined for an .899 even strength save percentage. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn had a three goals total between them. A slow start was putting pressure on everyone.

One month and seven days after that 4-1 win over the Flyers, the Stars have only lost twice since and have vaulted up the Western Conference standings with 32 points in 25 games. They enter tonight’s game against the Blackhawks with a 12-game points streak, matching the franchise record. Monday’s 4-2 win over the Golden Knights featured multi-point nights from Seguin, John Klingberg and Alex Radulov, as well as another strong performance from their starting goaltender.

“You have two goalies who are really good, and they give you a chance to win every time,” said defenseman John Klingberg.

[COVERAGE OF STARS-BLACKHAWKS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Powering that reversal in course? Great special teams (20.8% power play, 87.9% penalty kill) for one, but it’s really been the goaltending, which head coach Jim Montgomery recently labeled as “the backbone of this team.” And it hasn’t been a one-man show. Montgomery has given 11 starts to Bishop and five to Khudobin, and the split has paid off. They’ve combined for a .944 ESSV% in the Stars’ last 16 games with neither goalie getting more than three consecutive starts.

The strong performance of their goaltending is a continuation from last season when the pair combined for a .934 ESSV%, which put them right behind the Islanders, who’s two goalies, Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, won the Jennings Trophy.

“We are very fortunate to have [Bishop] as our starter and have [Khudobin] as 1B or 1A, or whatever you want to call it,” Montgomery said following Sunday’s win over the Blackhawks. “It’s two years now that we are very fortunate with the goalies we have that backbone this team.”

MORE: Beyond Benn and Seguin: Breaking down Stars’ hot streak

Tonight’s studio coverage will be hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp. John Forslund and AJ Mleczko will call the action from United Center in Chicago, Ill.

NBCSN presents the national presentation of HeadStrong, an NBC Sports Regional Networks’ documentary about mental health and sports, Wednesday, November 27 at 10:30 p.m. ET following Wednesday Night Hockey.  

The feature documentary tells the story of four elite athletes who have faced mental health challenges: Justise Winslow, forward/guard for the Miami Heat; Nathan Braaten, former Oregon State University soccer player and founder of Dam Worth It; Hayden Hurst, Baltimore Ravens tight end; and Clint Malarchuk, former goalie for the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques, Washington Capitals, and Buffalo Sabres. Six-time Pro Bowl receiver and Founder of House Of Athlete Brandon Marshall also appears in the program and serves as an executive producer.

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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.