Valeri Nichushkin

10 stunning numbers from the 2018-19 NHL regular season

Throughout the 2018-19 regular season we have looked at some stunning numbers from around NHL.

What stood out to us most as the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin?

Let’s take a look…

1. Goal scoring goes up again. The average NHL game featured 5.96 goals per game this season, the highest it has been since the 2005-06 season when the league topped the six-goal per game mark coming out of the 2005 lockout.

If you remember, that was the year penalties skyrocketed around the league with the crackdown on obstruction and interference.

There are a lot of possibilities for the recent increase, including the smaller goalie gear to the continuation of 3-on-3 overtime, to any number of smaller changes in the league. It is never any one thing that leads to drops in scoring, and it is never any one thing that leads to increases. A lot of times it is simply a lot of smaller changes that add up into big changes, and there have been a few in the NHL in recent years with the goalies and overtime rules.

2. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Edmonton Oilers’ teammates finished second and fourth respectively in the NHL scoring race, the first time a pair of teammates finished in the top-five since Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf did it for the Anaheim Ducks during the 2013-14 season.

It is the 15th time it has happened in the past 20 years.

What is stunning about it is the Oilers are only the third team out of that group to have actually missed the playoffs with two top-five scorers on their roster.

Two of the teams reached the Stanley Cup Final (one of them won it), three others went as far as the Conference Final, there was a Presidents’ Trophy winner, and a handful of teams that at least made it to Round 2.

The full list over the past 20 years:

Edmonton: 2018-19: Missed Playoffs
Anaheim 2013-14: Reached Round 2
Tampa Bay 2012-13: Missed playoffs
Tampa Bay 2010-11: Reached Eastern Conference Final
Vancouver 2010-11: Reached Stanley Cup Final
Washington 2009-10: Won Presidents’ Trophy, lost Round 1
Pittsburgh 2008-09: Won Stanley Cup
Tampa Bay 2006-07: Lost Round 1
Ottawa 2005-06: Reached Round 2
Colorado 2002-03: Lost Round 1
Vancouver 2001-02: Lost Round 1
Pittsburgh 2000-01: Reached Eastern Conference Final
Anaheim 1999-00: Lost Round 1
Anaheim 1998-99: Missed playoffs
Colorado 1998-99: Reached Western Conference Final

3. A big year for milestones. Alex Ovechkin and Draisaitl both hit the 50-goal mark this season, making it the first time since the 2011-12 season that two players did it in the same season. Draisaitl is also the first player other than Ovechkin to score 50 goals in a season since that year. There have only been 12 50-goal seasons over the past decade. Six of them belong to Ovechkin, two belong to Steven Stamkos, and Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, and Draisaitl all have one each.

There were also six player to top the 100-point mark, the most to do it in one year since the 2006-07 season when seven players did it.

4. All of the Lightning’s dominance. The Lightning’s 62 wins tied the NHL record for most wins in a single season, while their 3.89 goals per game average was the 20th best single season mark since 1990. All 19 teams ahead of them played between 1990 and 1995, just before the start of the NHL’s Dead Puck Era. They are one of only three teams in the top-40 that played after 1995.

Their 28.2 percent success rate on the power play was also the 10th best in NHL history. The nine teams ahead of them and the seven immediately after them all played in the 1970s or 1980s.

Not enough dominance? They became the first team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins to feature three 40-goal scorers in the same season (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point).

5. Chandler Stephenson‘s historically clean season: The Capitals forward appeared in 64 games this season and did not take a single penalty, the only player in the league to play at least 60 games and not spend one minute in the penalty box. He is one of just 16 players in NHL history to play at least 60 games in a season and not take a penalty, and the first since Butch Goring during the 1980-81 season.

Dallas’ Valeri Nichushkin was close to joining him, going 57 games without a penalty (or a goal!).

6. Aleksander Barkov‘s penalty dominance. We know Barkov is one of the game’s best players thanks to his combination of shutdown defense and now dominant offense, but he is consistently one of the league’s most valuable players in terms of giving his team’s a special teams advantage. Barkov drew 35 penalties this season while only being called for, a penalty differential of plus-31, the best in the league.

Other players that excelled in this area include Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson (plus-28), Carolina’s Warren Foegele (plus-22), and New Jersey’s Nico Hischier (plus-19).

7. The Islanders succeeded in going worst to first. No team in the NHL gave up more goals than the New York Islanders during the 2017-18 season, and no team gave up fewer goals during the 2018-19 season. They improved their goals against number by 102 goals in one season. That is more than stunning, it is completely insane. Read more here on how they did it.

8. Fighting is still rapidly going away. Anyone that is paying attention to the evolution of the NHL game knows that fighting is quickly disappearing from the sport, but you might be shocked as to just how much it is going away. There was not one player in the NHL this season that dropped the gloves more than six times (there were 10). Only three teams (Boston, New York Rangers, Ottawa) had more than 20 fights for the entire season.

9. Drew Doughty‘s ugly season. From the moment he arrived in the NHL Doughty has been one of the NHL’s best defensive players. Between 2008-09 and 2017-18 there were only eight defenders in the NHL that had a better plus-minus than his plus-93. Say what you want about plus-minus (I know the flaws), but anyone that can play nearly a decade and be that far on the plus side in goals is probably pretty solid. This season? He finished as a minus-34, the second worst mark in the entire league, ahead of only Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. A lot of that is due to playing the most minutes on a lousy team whose starting goalie had a terrible year, but it is still unheard of to see Doughty that far down the list.

10. A stunning shootout stat. There were four teams that did not win a game in a shootout this season (the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, and Ottawa Senators). Before this season there were only five teams in the entire shootout era that went a full season without a shootout win, and two of them came during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. You can probably credit 3-on-3 overtime for that stat.

The Maple Leafs were only involved in two shootouts total this season, and both of them came in the final two weeks of the regular 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.

What to watch for in final days of 2018-19 NHL season

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There is only playoff spot still up for grabs in the NHL’s playoff race, and it could be decided as early as Friday night if the Columbus Blue Jackets can beat the New York Rangers. While that would be somewhat disappointing as it relates to drama and excitement for the final day of the regular season, there will still be plenty of big storylines to watch.

What should you be paying attention to? Let’s take a look.

1. Columbus just needs one win. Everything is sitting right there for the Blue Jackets. All they have to do is win one game against either the sixth-worst team in the league (the Rangers on Friday) or the worst team in the league (the Ottawa Senators on Saturday). That is it. That is all they need to do. If they manage to miss the playoffs (which they would do with if they fail to collect two points over those two games and if Montreal beats Toronto) it would probably be one of the most stunning end-of-season collapses in league history. No pressure!

2. Tampa Bay looks to tie the NHL’s single season win record. They can’t break the record, but if the Lightning beat the Boston Bruins they would win their 62nd game of the season, tying them with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in a single season. They are currently one of just three teams to have ever won at least 60 in a single season.

3. More Nikita Kucherov milestones. Assuming they do not rest him, Nikita Kucherov would need four points to become the first player since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr during the 1995-96 season to record at least 130 points in a season. He is also four assists away from 90 for the season. While that seems like a tall order, keep in mind he already has eight four-point games this season, including one four-assist game.

4. Blues try to go from worst to first. In the first week of January the St. Louis Blues had the worst record in the Western Conference. With a win on Saturday, combined with losses by the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets, they would finish the season in first place in the Central Division. That is a remarkable turnaround in a very short period of time.

5. Leon Draisaitl and John Tavares shoot for 50. You have to go all the way back to the 2011-12 season to find the last time the NHL had multiple 50-goal scorers in the same season (Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin did it) but we have a chance to see it happen again this season. Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl needs just one to become the first Oilers player since Wayne Gretzky scored 62 during the 1986-87 season (that is, if you exclude Craig Simpson’s 1987-88 season, where he only scored 43 of his goals as a member of the Oilers). His season has been kind of lost in the shadows of another monster year from Connor McDavid and overlooked because of the rest of the team’s struggles, but he has been sensational. Tavares, if he plays in what is a meaningless game for Toronto, would need to score three goals against the Montreal Canadiens to record his first 50-goal season. There have only been seven 50-goal performances since the start of the 2010-11 season, and four of them belong to Alex Ovechkin.

6. Four players are within reach of 100 points. Kucherov, McDavid, Draisaitl, Patrick Kane and Brad Marchand are already at the century mark, and with big games in their regular season finales Sidney Crosby (98 points), Johnny Gaudreau (98 points), Nathan MacKinnon (98 points), and Stamkos (97 points) could also get there. That is, of course, assuming they play. Pittsburgh (Crosby) and Colorado (MacKinnon) are the only players on teams that can improve their place in the standings, so it is possible Gaudreau or Stamkos could be held out. Florida’s Aleksander Barkov is the next closest player with 94 points, but would need an incredible effort to get to 100 on the season.

7. The potential for some finales. While there is no indication that he is going to retire, the reality is that Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo is 40 years old and his future with the team (or in the NHL) could very much be in doubt. With the Wild missing the playoffs and a new general manager in charge, it is possible Bruce Boudreau could be coaching his final game in Minnesota. Jason Pominville, a long-time fan favorite in Buffalo, could be appearing in his final game as a member of the Sabres.

8. The draft lottery watch. The Ottawa Senators are locked in to the NHL’s worst record meaning their first-round pick (which now belongs to the Colorado Avalanche) will have the best odds to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But several other teams could see their odds change depending on the outcome of their remaining games. The big ones to watch are the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils. Entering play on Friday the Kings have the second worst record in the league, sitting just one point behind the Devils. A Devils regulation loss, combined with one Kings win, would see New Jersey’s lottery odds jump up from 11.5 percent to 13.5 percent.

9. The Nichushkin and Rieder watch. Tobias Rieder has played 66 games for the Edmonton Oilers this season and not scored a goal. Valeri Nichushkin has played 57 games for the Dallas Stars and not scored a goal OR taken a penalty. Will one of them get a goal? At least let Rieder get one after he had to take all of the blame for the Oilers’ struggles this 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.

Stars’ Nichushkin having historically uneventful (and dull) season

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After spending two years in the KHL, Valeri Nichushkin returned to the Dallas Stars this season on a two-year contract that will pay him nearly $3 million per season. A first-round pick by the team back in 2013, Nichushkin had shown flashes of the potential that made him a top-10 pick before leaving for Russia, but had never really taken a big step forward in his development.

Still, the Stars obviously had some decently high hopes to be willing to give him that much money in his return.

His first year back with the team has been, in a word, uneventful.

So uneventful, in fact, that it is reaching historic levels for its uneventfulness.

Earlier this week Stars beat writer Sean Shapiro pointed out the fun fact that Nichushkin had already set an NHL record (for a non-goalie) by going 48 games to start a season without scoring a goal or taking a penalty. He has since played in two additional games, including Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, meaning he has now gone 50 consecutive games to open the season without scoring a goal or taking a penalty. He also only has seven assists and is barely averaging more than a shot on goal per game.

Just for laughs, if you go back to his last appearance in the NHL during the 2015-16 he has now gone 76 consecutive games, including playoffs, without a goal, has taken just three minor penalties during that stretch, and has only recorded 11 total assists.

There is just nothing happening here with this player. No offense, no playmaking, nothing that is really putting the team at a disadvantage (other than not scoring) due to sloppy or careless play. He is literally just there.

Just a few things to consider here…

  • As of this writing Nichushkin has logged 607 minutes of ice-time this season without a goal or a penalty. Since the NHL started officially logging time-on ice numbers, the most minutes a player has played in a full season without registering either, was 464 minutes by Kevin Porter in 2015-16 in 41 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The only other player that has logged more than 364 minutes was Chris Tanev with in only 29 games with the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks.
  • Prior to the 2018-19 season there only six players in NHL history that played in at least 50 games, scored zero goals, and recorded fewer than 10 penalty minutes, and only two that had fewer than five (Carl Gunnarsson zero goals and four penalty minutes with the Blues in 2016-17; Rob Scuderi had zero goals and only two penalty minutes in 53 games with the Penguins in 2013-14).
  • Only two players have played in at least 50 games, recorded zero penalty minutes, and scored just one goal. Rick Kessell did it for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1972-73, while Lew Morrison did it for the Atlanta Flames during the 1973-74 season.

The Stars have 11 games remaining, and with Nichushkin not always a lock to be in the lineup he is getting extremely close to making some bizarre history.

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.

 

Spezza wants to be more than ‘good locker room guy’ for Stars

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Jason Spezza is unlikely to play like a $7.5 million guy for the Dallas Stars this season, but it’s tough to imagine things getting worse than they did last season.

Spezza mixed with Ken Hitchcock about as well as wolves get along with sheep in 2017-18, seeing his ice time plummet from 16:10 minutes per game in 2016-17 to a pitiful 13 minutes per night. To put things mildly, Spezza’s numbers suffered, with just 26 points in 78 games. Excluding the 2012-13 lockout (when he generated five points in as many contests), you’d need to go as far back as Spezza’s rookie season to see such a poor point total, and Spezza managed his 21 points in just 33 games all the way back in 2002-03.

Waning confidence could be seen in a number of areas, including a 5.8 shooting percentage, easily a career-low and just the second time Spezza’s endured a sub-10 shooting percentage over 15 seasons.

Brutal stuff, right?

The good news is that his shooting percentage is almost certain to level out, and the even better news – for Spezza, if not the Stars as a whole – is that Jim Montgomery replaced Hitchcock as head coach. That said, at 35, you wonder how much Spezza really has left in the tank.

If nothing else, Spezza told Mike Heika of the Stars website that he has a “fire in his belly” after that miserable 2017-18 campaign. A mixture of pride and the motivation of a contract year should make it certain that, if Spezza has anything left, he’ll show it this season.

“I’m here to play,” Spezza said. “I’ve produced my whole life and I want to do that again. I don’t want to just hang around for intangibles and being a good locker room guy. I’m here to produce — that’s what I expect of myself.”

Amid struggles that could prompt an existential crisis in a less confident athlete, Spezza continued to succeed in the faceoff circle last season, a sneaky-impressive area of his game. The former Senators center won 55.8-percent of his draws in 2017-18, while his career mark is a strong 53.5.

Such successes weren’t lost on Montgomery, who told Heika that he expects Spezza to take more faceoffs in the defensive zone this season. (Spezza began 43.4-percent of his shifts in the defensive zone last season.)

That’s an interesting idea beyond leveraging Spezza’s ability to win draws.

Most obviously, it could open the door for Radek Faksa to enjoy more favorable opportunities. The stealth Selke candidate began just 33.4-percent of his shifts in the attacking zone last season, and one cannot help but wonder if Faksa could enjoy a Sean Couturier-like leap if his workload was relaxed to a substantial degree. The Stars’ top centers (Faksa, Spezza, and Tyler Seguin) were all pretty effective at winning faceoffs last season, which would hopefully inspire Dallas to focus more on landing advantageous matchups, rather than obsessing over who might win or lose a draw.

Of course, Spezza wasn’t talking about faceoff wins when he was discussing production; he wants to put up points and land another NHL gig after this contract year.

The veteran center truly stands as a crucial make-or-break player for the Stars, especially if Dallas continues to load up with a top-heavy first line of Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov.

Through one preseason game, Spezza primarily lined up with Valeri Nichushkin (another Stars forward who could go either way, really) and Mattias Janmark. Via Natural Stat Trick, Janmark stood out as Spezza’s most common linemate last season, so we’ll see if that combination sticks even with coaching changes. You could do worse than Spezza with Janmark and Nichushkin, a trio that would have a lot to prove, even if Spezza’s in a very different phase of his career.

It’s important to remember that Spezza’s not that far removed from being the productive scorer he hopes to be. He generated 50 points in 2016-17, and that total came in 68 games. Before that, Spezza rattled off three consecutive seasons with at least 62 points.

Considering his age and the possibility that Faksa and others might push Spezza for power play reps and other opportunities, it might be too much to ask for Spezza to hit 60+ points in 2018-19. Despite that $7.5M clip, the Stars would probably be quite happy if the veteran landed in the 50 range, especially if he can juggle that with increased defensive duties.

That would make him “good in the room” and on the ice.

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.

It’s Dallas Stars day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Dallas Stars.

2017-18

42-32-8, 92 pts. (6th in Central Division, 10th in Western Conference)
Missed playoffs.

IN:

Blake Comeau
Valeri Nichushkin
Roman Polak
Anton Khudobin

OUT:

Antoine Roussel
Dan Hamuis
Greg Pateryn
Mike McKenna
Curtis McKenzie

RE-SIGNED:

Mattias Janmark
Remi Elie
Devin Shore
Stephen Johns
Gemel Smith

It’s been two years since the Dallas Stars topped the Central Division with their 50-win, 109-point regular season, good for second-best in the NHL in 2015-16.

Since then, it’s been a little bit of free fallin’ in Texas.

Last season was better than the year previous, so there’s a bonus. Of course, it had to be because the Stars were atrocious in 2016-17. The addition of Ben Bishop in the crease last offseason helped, but the Stars had a single line that was able to score with regularity. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov (also added last offseason), one of the best lines in hockey, each accounted for nearly a point-per-game. Of Dallas’ 231 goals last season, the lined combined for 103 of them and 229 of the Stars’ 609 combined points.

It’s a great line, but no one outside that trio had more than 20 goals or over 35 points. In fact, it was a defenseman — John Klingberg — who nestled in behind them as the team’s fourth-leading scorer. It was a hell of a season for Klingberg, take nothing away from that. But the gap between scoring is substantial and a big reason why the Stars couldn’t cobble together more wins. If their first line had an off night, the team lost. It was a simple formula for opposing team’s to key in on.

The Stars will have a new bench boss this coming season after Ken Hitchcock retired. Jim Montgomery and his puck-possession mindset take over the reins and one of his first tasks will be trying to find Jason Spezza‘s game. Spezza had an awful year, so much so he was made a healthy scratch in the wake of its terribleness. Father time hasn’t been kind to the 35-year-old over the past two seasons. He has one year left on a four-year deal that’s paying him $7.5 million per season.

The Stars do get a bit of a boost with the return of Valeri Nichushkin, who makes his return after two years spent back home playing in the KHL. Thus far, the Russian is the Stars’ biggest addition of the summer. Nichushkin seems primed to move into a second-line role and could be a part of Spezza’s revitalization.

Two scoring lines are better than one, so if Nichushkin can shock Spezza back to life, then the Stars might work themselves back into the playoff conversation.

It’s not the same type of hype train as, say, the additions of Bishop and Radulov in years’ past. Perhaps the quiet summer will bode well for Dallas.

The good news is Klingberg seems to be skating into his prime. He made a case for the Norris this year and has seen his game on the incline for a couple years now, becoming a vital part of Dallas’ offense with 67 points last season. There’s no reason to think that will change. Klingberg rebounded from a down year in 2016-17 to put up career highs, and when he played on Dallas’ good team three years ago, he put up solid numbers in just his second year in the NHL. That sky is the limit for Klingberg.

A new system put forth by Montgomery might spell good things for the Stars, who played under Hitchcock’s aging coaching style. A turnaround by the club this season might just help the Stars keep hold of Seguin, who is set for unrestricted free agency after this year.

Prospect Pool

Miro Heiskanen, D, 19, HIFK Helsinki (SM-Liiga) – 2017 first-round pick

The third-overall pick a year ago enjoyed a solid campaign in his native Finland, posting 11 goals and 23 points in 30 games while averaging the most ice-time of any player in the league with 25:06 per game. That all added up to a league all-star team nod and an award for Liiga’s best defenseman. Heiskanen looked the part at the Olympic Games in South Korea as well with one goal in five games and played in the world hockey championships and the world juniors to boot. A trifecta of sorts:

Jim Nill said he’s coming to North America this season. Some say he’s NHL ready. That could be a big boost for the Stars if he is.

Roope Hintz, LW, 21, Texas Stars (AHL) – 2015 second-round pick

The Stars like themselves some Finns. Hintz is another prospect from Finland who could make his NHL debut this season. He had 35 points in 70 regular-season games in his first pro season in the American Hockey League. In the playoffs, where the Stars were Calder Cup runners-up, Hintz had a further 12 points in 22 games.

“Roope has taken some huge strides,” Stars coach Derek Laxdal told NHL.com. “One of his assets is his speed. He is a big body (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) who can skate at a high speed, make plays at high speed. His biggest challenge throughout the year has just been playing with that consistency and playing a little heavier.”

Ty Dellandrea, C, 18, Flint Firebirds (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick

Dellandrea is the newest addition to Dallas’ prospect pool after being taken 13th overall in June’s draft. A center, Dellandrea stood out in Flint of the Ontario Hockey League despite his team’s rough season. He led the team with 27 goals and had 59 points in 67 games and models his game after Jonathan Toews, both on and off the ice. What’s not to like?

“Ty is an extremely talented two-way centerman with explosive speed, hockey intelligence and willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team succeed on the ice,” Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said. “Over his two seasons with Flint, he has continued to improve every facet of his game and exhibits the character and work ethic that it takes to succeed in the National Hockey League.”


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