Miro Heiskanen

Ben Bishop is back on track and so are the Stars

2 Comments

You could not have possibly drawn up a worse start to the season for the Dallas Stars.

They collected just three out of a possible 18 points in their first nine games, did not win a single one of those games in regulation, their big offseason acquisition (Joe Pavelski) could not find the score sheet, their other big signing (Corey Perry) had not played due to injury, and their goaltending — one of their biggest strengths — had abandoned them early.

It all seemed like they were one or two losses away from either making a coaching change or having Jim Lites publicly blow another gasket after another slow start.

If nothing else it put them in an early hole that was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to crawl out of. But just a couple of weeks later, they are in the process of doing just that.

After beating Colorado on Tuesday (their second win over the Avalanche in a week) the Stars are back to .500 on the season with an 8-8-1 mark and have won seven of their past eight games.

Obviously, a lot of things have started to turn around for them during that stretch, including Pavelski starting to get hot (six points, including four goals), improved play from second-year standout Miro Heiskanen, and complementary players like Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov contributing to the offense.

But no development has meant more than the turnaround of the two goaltenders, and especially starter Ben Bishop.

The Stars’ biggest strength entering the season was always going to be the fact the top of their lineup is capable of competing with any team in the Western Conference on any given night. They have a top line that can be great, two outstanding defenders (John Klingberg and Heiskanen) and a Vezina caliber goalie (Bishop is a three-time finalist for the award). That may not be enough to win a Stanley Cup, but it is enough to give you a chance.

Bishop is probably the biggest X-factor out of that group because as a goalie he can be the ultimate game-changer and someone that can mask a lot of team flaws. He was one of the top goalies in the league a year ago and was one of the biggest keys in their second half turnaround.

He is also one of the biggest factors in their recent hot streak.

During this 7-1-0 stretch, Bishop has appeared in six of the games and allowed just eight total goals (with two of them coming in one game) with a .955 save percentage.

Combined with a couple of great games from backup Anton Khudobin, the Stars have allowed more than one goal just twice since Oct. 19. You can’t realistically expect a team to give up only one goal every game for a full season, but the play of Bishop and Khubodin has at least given the Stars a chance to stay afloat in the West while the other top players get things figured out.  And you have to think they can. The trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Klingberg has combined for just five goals in the first 17 games and have a combined shooting percentage of 4 percent (five goals on 123 shots!), far below their normal career averages.

There is no way that is going to continue, because just like last season when they slumped at the start they are still way too good, and way too talented to not score more goals given the number of shots they are getting.

Klingberg is set to miss the next few weeks due to injury, and that will hurt, but with Bishop playing the way he is they should be able to get through it.

The Stars still have enough question marks to limit their potential ceiling, but they have enough impact players that their floor should be better than they showed early in the season. Right now their most important impact player has gotten it together. Once the other ones follow this season might once again become interesting in Dallas.

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.

Penguins keep heating up; Struggling Stars sink lower

9 Comments

Is it time for the Dallas Stars to throw Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn under the bus again?

We’re still in October, and things are looking unsettling for a team that navigated some serious highs and lows in 2018-19 to eventually drum up lofty expectations for 2019-20. So far, the Stars have flopped in their encore performance, like a band tripping over all of their instruments while the crowd raises its lighters.

On paper, you’d think it would be the Pittsburgh Penguins who were struggling against the Stars on Friday. After all, they are the team still dealing with injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust, while the Stars recently got interesting offseason addition Corey Perry back in the lineup.

Instead, the two teams continued on their opposite trajectories. The Penguins keep finding ways to win, in this case riding two Kris Letang goals to a 4-2 win against the Stars, pushing Pittsburgh’s winning streak to five games. Dallas, meanwhile, lost its fifth game in a row (0-4-1), and the Stars saw their overall 2019-20 record sink to a deeply unsettling 1-7-1.

Former PHT editor Brandon Worley captured much of the mood among Stars fans after another dispiriting loss.

Most are shaking their heads in dismay, with some feeling like it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Like many, I didn’t expect Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and other Stars goalies to combine for a .923 team save percentage like they did in 2018-19, which towered over last season’s league average of .905.

It absolutely was a red flag that the Stars only marginally outscored the opposition (209 goals for, 200 against) last season despite that Herculean goaltending.

Still, there were signs that Jim Montgomery’s system was putting Bishop and Khudobin in a situation to succeed, and there are elements of a modern puck-moving defense in place. One could picture another step for sizzling sophomore Miro Heiskanen, and the Stars made the playoffs despite dark horse Norris candidate John Klingberg being limited to 64 regular-season games. More Heiskanen, more Klingberg, another step for Roope Hintz, plus the additions of Joe Pavelski and, to a much lesser extent, Corey Perry? There were worse formulas for success heading into 2019-20, so fools like me wondered if the Stars might be able to rekindle that magic.

Luck should improve

And, to be fair, counting the Stars out just a little more than two weeks into 2019-20 would be hasty.

Hintz and Heiskanen are some of the only Stars off to the starts you’d expect, with Seguin parked at four points in nine games, Pavelski only managing one goal and one assist, and Klingberg sitting at three points (after Thursday’s goal and assist).

Things should improve to some extent, even if it’s foolish to count on all-world goaltending once again. With six of their first nine games on the road, maybe Dallas is having some trouble bringing its small-margin-of-error style out of Dallas.

While the Stars have a hapless divisional neighbor in the Minnesota Wild, the bottom line is that the Central Division figures to be unforgiving, so Dallas needs to shake out of this funk as soon as possible.

A matter of philosophy?

Maybe it’s too early to panic, but it’s absolutely time to ask tough questions. The Stars aren’t that far removed from being one of the most electrifying teams in the NHL, only to turn their back on that formula at the first signs of pushback, instead going the “safer” route of becoming more defensive-minded under Ken Hitchcock and then Montgomery.

It was easier to watch that beautiful thing die when the Stars were winning, yet it’s debatable if dumbing things down by going all-defense is truly the “safe” route, especially with a team fueled by offensive talent from Seguin and Alexander Radulov on offense and skilled defensemen like Klingberg and Heiskanen on the blueline.

Maybe losing to a depleted Penguins teams at least provides another chance to do some soul-searching?

[MORE: What’s wrong with the Stars?]

The Penguins carried the Stars’ outscore-your-problems torch once Dallas wavered, and Pittsburgh marched to two consecutive Stanley Cups despite defense that ranged from shaky to shabby. Then, for reasons even more perplexing, the Penguins began to lose confidence in that approach, and ended up losing some ground in the process.

As of Friday, the Penguins and Stars are moving in very different directions, and one can bet that they’ll see other dramatic shifts over an 82-game regular season. Maybe both can provide each other lessons about playing to your strengths and knowing who you are, though.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

What can slumping Stars expect from Perry’s debut?

Getty
3 Comments

If the Dallas Stars are known for anything during the Jim Nill era, it’s big offseason acquisitions that create hope and increase expectations only to be followed by what is usually a disappointing season on the ice.

With just one win in their first seven games entering play on Wednesday night, you couldn’t possibly blame Stars fans if they were getting a sense of deja vu so far following the offseason additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry.

While Pavelski is still searching for his first goal with his new team (he has just a single assist and only 10 shots on goal in seven games), Perry has yet to play after being sidelined with a broken foot during the preseason.

That will change on Wednesday when Perry will make his debut with the Stars when they play the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Will that be enough to make a difference for a team that needs any sort of spark it can get?

The Stars signed Perry to a one-year deal following his buyout from the Anaheim Ducks, and he was always going to be a pretty big wild card with his team.

The biggest problem the Stars had a year ago was that their roster was too top heavy and way too reliant on six players (the top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov; defenders John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen; starting goalie Ben Bishop). The complete lack of any dependable secondary scoring was a huge flaw and something that had to be corrected if they were going to be a serious championship contender.

Pavelski, coming off of a 38-goal season in San Jose, seemed like a great starting point to help drive another scoring line to complement the top line. It has not worked as planned just yet, but the season is still young.

Perry, on the other hand, was always more of a question mark in what he could actually provide. His play has obviously declined in recent years as his age climbs into his 30s, and he was limited to just 31 games a year ago due to injury. He scored six goals and four assists when he was in the lineup, production that would have projected out to 15 goals and 25 points over an 82-game season. Not exactly great numbers, and they simply continued the downward trend his career had been on in the two years prior to that. If anything the decline seemed to accelerate even more. How much of that was due to injury and the circumstances on a bad Ducks team remain to be seen. There is still some hope that he might be able to bounce back a little in a better environment.

It is expected he will play on the team’s second line on Wednesday night alongside Mattians Janmark and Roope Hintz, a duo that has been one of the very few bright spots on the team this season.

Perry will no doubt bring a physical presence to the lineup, but what the team really needs right now is some offense because no one — not even the big name players — are finding the back of the net. The Seguin-Benn-Radulov trio has combined for just four goals. Pavelski has the aforementioned goose egg on his stat line. The defense duo of Klingberg and Heiskanen has just one goal (belonging to Heiskanen). The biggest reason depth matters is for moments just like this. Your star players are not always going to be there to carry the team offensively, and when they go cold there has to be someone else to pick up the slack. The Stars have not had that, and the additions of Perry and Pavelski were supposed to help fix it.

Starting on Wednesday Perry gets his first chance to try and contribute to that and begin what the Stars are hoping can be a bounce-back season.

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.

Q&A: Ben Bishop on Stars’ summer, lessons from 2019 playoffs

Ben Bishop grew up in St. Louis and has a family filled with Blues fans. So imagine how awkward it was during the Dallas Stars’ Round 2 seven-game series defeat at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

“I think it was a little different,” Bishop told NBC Sports. “My poor family, they’ve been Blues fans their whole lives. Obviously, when they win it they have to go through their brother or son, so I think it was a little bit different for the family, but I know they were happy for the Blues. Just a little different feeling having gone through the Stars to get there.”

The Stars took a big step last season and have reason for higher expectations in 2019-20. The rising Miro Heiskanen, the emergence of Roope Hintz, the addition of Joe Pavelski, and banking on another strong performance by Bishop should make Dallas a tough out in the NHL’s most difficult division.

We spoke with Bishop about lessons learned from last season, the Stars’ summer, and more.

Enjoy.

Q. The success the first year with Jim Montgomery, is that a product of what he brought or a product of what you guys brought?

BISHOP: “A little bit of both. I think you look at Jim’s resume, he’s won everywhere he’s been — in the USHL, in college he won as well at the University of Denver, he won a championship. So, he’s got that winning pedigree that comes with him, so, I think coming into this year everyone was excited and we have some talented players and the combination it equaled a pretty good year.”

Q. How did that feel being back in that situation where you’re “Ok now we are there?”

BISHOP: “It was great, I mean that is what you train all summer for, the preseason games the regular season games, to get a chance to you know give yourself that opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. You know you have to get into the playoffs first so, I think being in the playoffs there is not a better experience or feeling. A seven-game series, there really isn’t much better as you play the games, kind of get a little monotonous and then when you get into the postseason and every game is all or nothing. So, every game is a lot of fun to be a part of it.”

Q. What do you take from the first round victory? Is that something you guys can build on?

BISHOP: “Absolutely. I think we had a lot of young guys [last] year kind of getting their first taste of playoff hockey and when you get in the playoffs to win a round and to have that feeling what it is like to go onto the next one, it’s contagious and you want to strive for it, to get that feeling again, so when we get there guys know what it takes to get to the next round. I think also the hurt of losing will stick with you knowing you don’t want to go through that again.”

Q. What have you done to ensure that you’re available to play more games perhaps than you have in the past?

BISHOP: “I think as you get a little bit older you have to kind of learn your body and know what has made you successful and unsuccessful in the past. I think I did a pretty good job looking back and seeing what happened last year and where I can improve as far as the nutrition reset and working out and what not, so hopefully we have taken care of all of that and looking forward to a long healthy season.”

Q. Jim Nill went out and added some veteran leadership in Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry.

BISHOP: “Well, I think anytime those guys are available I am pretty sure all of the teams out there wanted those guys. I think it just speaks a lot of Jim Nill and then the organization to be able to go out and get these guys and giving us the best opportunity to win. It’s really exciting and I think anybody would love to have those guys on their team.”

Q. With the additions, and the playoff success last year, what are the expectations for Dallas this season?

BISHOP: “Well, I think there is going to be the high expectations, but at the same time I think for myself you always set the same goal it is to win the first game of the season. You can’t talk about the playoffs without going through the regular season and you can’t talk about where you want to finish in the regular season without going through the games, so it is a pretty easy goal. You have to win the first game and then after that win the second game and then you kind of go from there because when you start looking too far ahead you kind of forget about what is going on right in front of your face. I think you have to take care of business and on a day to day basis and get to that first goal, which is making the playoffs.”

(The Stars are 0-3-0 and face the Capitals Tuesday night.)

MORE:
Roman Polak suffered ‘small fracture’ of sternum
Stars seek playoff repeat after ouster by Cup champion Blues

————

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’s 2019-20 predictions: NHL Awards, free agent busts, overhyped teams

3 Comments

The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here (Wed. at 6:30 pm on NBCSN) and what better way to kick off the new hockey than with some predictions. Today we’ll look at the various awards and some topics such as overhyped team, first coach fired, whether Nikita Kucherov or the Tampa Bay Lightning will record a higher point total, and more.

Pre-season predictions are fun to read to get a sense of what people are thinking as we head into a new season. There was plenty of change around the league on the ice, behind the bench, and in the executive offices. Lots of teams have reason for hope, while the expectations of others aren’t very lofty, but they’re just hoping to take some positive steps.

Who will take home the hardware in June and what teams and players will be notable this season? Here’s what the PHT staff is thinking at the moment.

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST / WEST / STANLEY CUP]

Be sure to give us your picks in the comments!

HART: Nathan MacKinnon (Sean, James, Joey, Adam)
ART ROSS: Connor McDavid (Sean, Adam), Nathan MacKinnon (James), Nikita Kucherov (Joey)
ROCKET RICHARD: Alex Ovechkin (Sean, James, Adam), John Tavares (Joey)
VEZINA: John Gibson (Sean), Andrei Vasilevskiy (James, Joey), Ben Bishop (Adam)
NORRIS: Seth Jones (Sean), Erik Karlsson (James), Victor Hedman (Joey, Adam)
CALDER: Kaapo Kakko (Sean, James, Adam), Jack Hughes (Joey)
SELKE: Aleksander Barkov (Sean), Mark Stone (James), Ryan O’Reilly (Joey), Brayden Point (Adam)

OVERHYPED TEAM

SEAN: An NHL-worst power play was (hopefully) improved by the Matt Duchene addition, but while the Predators will once again be their solid selves, did David Poile do enough to overcome the trending upward Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche in a very tough Central Division? The bottom six could help out a bit more, and they need to find the old Kyle Turris at some point.

JAMES: The Coyotes are spending like a team with legitimate aspirations, but I just don’t see enough dynamic talent to break through.

JOEY: Boston Bruins. Everyone has them locked into the top three spots in the Atlantic, but they’re coming into the year a little banged up. They’re also coming off a long playoff run.

ADAM: Going to go with Nashville. They are still really good, but I don’t think Matt Duchene solves all that much for them and even though their defense is still really good I think they are going to miss P.K. Subban.

UNDERRATED TEAM

SEAN: Staying in the Central, the Avs are rightly garnering a lot of hype, but let’s not sleep on the Stars. Once they figured out Jim Montgomery’s system in the second half, they surged. Add in Joe Pavelski and a lottery ticket in Corey Perry, along with the up-and-coming Roope Hintz, future Norris winner Miro Heiskanen, and old standards Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov and Jamie Benn, and you’ve got a real dangerous team this season. If Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin can repeat their success from last season in goal, watch out for the Stars.

JAMES: The Penguins keep shrinking their margin of error with some head-scratching moves. Even so, they still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and a few other valuable players, so reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

JOEY: Carolina went to the conference final, but I’m not sure they’re getting the respect they deserve. I think they can finish second in the division.

ADAM: Columbus is going to be better than people think. They still have a lot of really good players coming back, and I think Pierre-Luc Dubois has a massive breakout year this season.

UNDERRATED PLAYER

SEAN: Four seasons with double-digit goals, at least 40 points in each of his five NHL seasons, and consistently in the positive when it comes to possession, Klingberg needs to get more due around the league. With Heiskanen and Esa Lindell on the blue line, the Stars’ top defenseman are among the best in the league.

JAMES: Alex Pietrangelo gets mentioned as an underrated player quite often, yet I think Colton Parayko might be even more overlooked. Parayko is a beast AND an absolute unit, to use fancy scientific jargon.

JOEY: Jonathan Huberdeau put together one of the quietest 90-plus point seasons I can remember. I think he’ll have another big year in Florida.

ADAM: John Klingberg shouldn’t be underrated, but I feel like he is. The development of Miro Heiskanen kind of stole a lot of the spotlight in Dallas last year but Klingberg is still the player that runs that defense, and he is outstanding.

FIRST COACH FIRED

SEAN: Boudreau seems inevitable, right? It’s looking like another long year in the State of Hockey and with a new GM in town, he might want to install his own hire, even with Bruce’s history of success in the league.

JAMES: Bruce Boudreau. Bill Guerin didn’t hire him, and the Wild insist on contending with a so-so roster, setting the stage for Bruce’s face to turn the color of a pink slip.

JOEY: Jeff Blashill. The Red Wings aren’t expected to make the playoffs, but I think they get off to an ugly start.

ADAM: I think it Paul Maurice’s time is going to run out in Winnipeg. That team faded last year and looks like it is setting up for a really tough season given the RFA drama and the state of their defense. He has been there long enough that a slow start could be it for him.

FREE AGENT BUST

SEAN: Stralman’s offense has steadily declined since 2014-15, his first year in Tampa, and now at 33 he’s on the back nine of his career. That makes it all the more odd that Dale Tallon decided to give him a three-year deal in the summer, especially coming back from a lower-body injury that caused him to miss most of last season.

JAMES: Tyler Myers is closer to a third-pairing defenseman than a $6M one.

JOEY: Tyler Myers in Vancouver. When it’s all said and done, that’s going to be a pretty nasty contract. He’s a good depth defenseman, but not someone you commit big dollars to.

ADAM: Have to go with Tyler Myers. Just do not see the plan in Vancouver and the amount of money they spent on him.

MORE:
2019-20 NHL Power Rankings
PHT’s 2019-20 season previews
Which 2019 NHL playoff teams are in danger of missing this season?
• 2019 NHL free agency tracker
NHL on NBC television schedule