Anton Khudobin

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

2 Comments

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.

————

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: Islanders, others make Saturday strong for streaks

4 Comments

Happy streaks continue, sad ones end

The Sharks beat the Islanders 2-1 in overtime, ending the Isles’ latest winning streak at five. You may notice that it took OT to make that happen, though, so the Islanders’ franchise-record point streak grows to 17 games (15-0-2).

Dallas isn’t all that far behind the Islanders, as the Stars have won six games in a row, and are now 13-1-1 in their past 15 games.

Two six-game losing streaks ended on Saturday, as the Flames should thank David Rittich, while the Predators won but must cross their fingers about Viktor Arvidsson‘s health.

Three Stars

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

It’s difficult to pick between Bergeron (four assists) and his teammate Torey Krug (overtime game-winning goal, two assists). Feel free to swap them in your mind if that suits your taste, but either way, Boston’s biggest names continue to propel them to wins.

Bergeron hasn’t been as spectacular as Brad Marchand (1G, 1A on Saturday) and David Pastrnak (no points) this season, but he’s still playing well, as this outburst gives him 24 points in 21 games. The 34-year-old also has a four-game point/assist streak going, with seven during that span.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combined for another dominant performance, as they’re wont to do.

McDavid scored two goals, while Draisaitl piled up three assists, all primary. That extra point gives Draisaitl (47) the season points lead over McDavid (46), and also gets Draisaitl the mention as the second star instead of 97. McDavid will probably work through this setback.

3. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars

There seems to be a theme running. At some point, the Islanders have to cool off a bit, right? McDavid + Draisaitl and the Bruins’ top line can’t dominate every game, can they?

We’re at the point where the Stars duo of Khudobin and Ben Bishop are inspiring similar questions (and serving as parallels to the Isles’ goalies), as they just keep getting it done. Dallas needed all of Khudobin’s 38 saves through regulation and overtime to win in a shootout where Khudobin turned aside both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Robin Lehner deserves a mention, as stopped 40 out of 41 shots but didn’t get the W. Lehner’s essentially playing like an amazing MLB ace who is getting basically zero run support most nights with the Blackhawks.

Highlight of the Night

This is a dazzling bit of wizardry from the Rangers, who managed to storm back from an 0-4 deficit to beat the Canadiens 6-5 in regulation:

Ewww

If you’re anxious about an upcoming dentist visit, don’t hit play. Or if you’re squeamish, really. Keith Yandle is a hockey player, thus he returned …

Factoids

  • Sportsnet points out that Draisaitl and McDavid are the first teammates with at least 45 points each in their team’s first 25 games since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr managed the feat for the Penguins in 1995-96. The full list of pairings to pull that off is quite small.
  • Josh Morrissey and Nathan Beaulieu were injured during the Jets’ game, and so was the night’s starter, Laurent Brossoit. Winnipeg still managed a win.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy set a Lightning franchise record with his 132nd win. That face doesn’t necessarily say “Wow, that’s not a very impressive franchise record,” but its nondescript nature is even more amusing if you imagine in that way.

  • NHL PR notes that the Rangers’ comeback win from down four goals ranks as the fifth such comeback win already this season, which already ties the league’s single-season record. Feel free to make jokes about how a four-goal lead has replaced a two-goal lead as the “worst lead in hockey.”

(You actually really don’t have to.)

Scores

VAN 2 – WSH 1 (SO)
CGY 3 – PHI 2 (SO)
ARI 3 – LAK 2
BOS 5 – MIN 4 (OT)
NYR 6 – MTL 5
TBL 6 – ANA 2
NJD 5 – DET 1
CAR 4 – FLA 2
WPG 4 – CBJ 3
TOR 5 – COL 3
NSH 4 – STL 2
DAL 2 – CHI 1 (SO)
EDM 4 – VGK 2
SJS 2 – NYI 1 (OT)

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.

Beyond Benn and Seguin: Breaking down Stars’ hot streak

3 Comments

If it weren’t for the virtually unbeatable New York Islanders, the Dallas Stars would probably be considered the hottest team in the NHL.

About a week ago, PHT’s Adam Gretz chronicled the revitalization of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, the Stars’ biggest stars (don’t mix up your capitalization there, gang). In particular, the strong work from Benn and Seguin stood out after yet another browbeating from management, in the latest case being head coach Jim Montgomery — who later apologized for throwing the two under the bus.

The numbers back up hot play from Benn and Seguin lately, but this video of Benn rampaging against Mark Scheifele and the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday presents the argument in a more violent and entertaining fashion:

Yet, in a team sport like hockey, you usually don’t go on a five-game winning streak without other players stepping up, and that’s especially true when you zoom out to Dallas’ 12-1-1 run since Oct. 19.

Truly, it’s remarkable to compare the Stars’ 2019-20 season through Oct. 18 (when they went 1-7-1) and this blistering run that’s improved the Stars to an overall record of 13-8-2.

Let’s take a look at the other forces driving Dallas’ success. Feel free to play the Stars’ cheesy and/or great Pantera-powered goal song while reading this post.

(Of course it’s called “Puck off.”)

As you’d probably expect, the goalies have been lights out

Last season, the Stars survived (and even thrived) on a steady diet of “Benn + Seguin + all-world goaltending from Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin.” You might not be surprised to learn that they’ve all been key catalysts for this impressive run.

Through the Stars’ ugly first nine games of 2019-20, they allowed 29 goals and only scored 17. Remarkably, the Stars have allowed fewer goals (26) in the 14 games since, while generating 49. I’m no mathematician nor am I a goalie coach, but if you’re allowing less than two goals per game in the modern NHL, you’re probably going to win a lot.

Bishop sports an outstanding .942 save percentage during the hot streak, and Khudobin is right behind him with a .941 in that span.

Scoring variety

When the Stars handed Joe Pavelski a deal with a $7.5 million AAV, they likely expected the veteran forward to help them find scoring beyond Benn and Seguin — even if Pavelski landed with those two, and merely opened up easier matchups for the likes of Alexander Radulov.

After a bumpy start, Pavelski and others have provided offense beyond Dallas’ dynamic duo. Pavelski matches Benn’s 10 points during the past 14 games, and they’re both tied with seemingly defense-only forward Radek Faksa.

(If Faksa turns into the Stars’ answer to Sean Couturier — a defensive forward whose considerable scoring touch was eventually unlocked — then watch out.)

Right behind Seguin’s 15 points in 14 games is a player who basically deserves at least his own paragraph: Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old defenseman has 12 points in his past 14 games, and while he’s soaking up puck luck that probably isn’t sustainable, the bottom line is that he’s a star. He continues to average the ice time of a workhorse defenseman, and may not have to wait long for Norris hype. (It’s promising, too, in its own way that the Stars are thriving while John Klingberg‘s had a tough go of things.)

With Corey Perry gearing up (nine points during the 14-game run) and Roope Hintz back in the mix after dealing with injury issues, it sure seems like Dallas’ attack is more varied than last season. That could be scary, considering how tough they were to contain as Hintz gave them a bit more variety once he really broke through during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Promising metrics

Expecting long-term world-class goaltending is dangerous, especially with older goalies like Bishop (33) and Khudobin (also 33).

But the promising thing is that there are a lot of positives to take away from Montgomery’s system. During this hot streak, the Stars haven’t just been riding some positive bounces, they’ve also generated the third-best differential for high-danger scoring chances during that time, and look good to great by just about all of Natural Stat Trick’s even-strength measures.

Money Puck’s expected goals differential chart for the Stars really drives the point home in an aesthetically pleasing and almost blunt way:

Yes, the Stars are playing a bit over their heads … but maybe not so far that this isn’t a sign that they’re here to stay?

The truth about the Stars is likely somewhere in between their red-hot 14-game streak and the rough nine-game start to 2019-20. It will be fascinating to see where they end up once 2019-20 shakes out, and considering the mix of youth and veterans on this team, what kind of ceiling this group might have.

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.

Seguin, Benn facing more internal criticism

Getty
4 Comments

Last year it was the team CEO. This year it is the head coach.

For the second year in a row the Dallas Stars top forward duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn is facing some criticism from within its own building for a lack of early season production. While neither player was specifically mentioned by name, it was pretty clear who coach Jim Montgomery was talking about in the wake of their 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday.

The duo — which accounts for more than $19 million of salary cap space — has combined for only four goals on the season and was held off the scoresheet on Sunday. Montgomery said he was “very disappointed” in the production of his team’s top players, and when asked if he is seeing any signs of progress as a follow up he said, “No, are you?”

When asked how to fix it, he talked about reducing ice-time and one-on-one video sessions, while also adding, via The Dallas Morning News, “They got to decide that they want to be a difference maker. I mean, look who scored for the Jets. We got really good big goals by Janmark and Faksa and that’s our third and fourth line.”

It’s not quite as harsh as when CEO Jim Lites went nuclear on the duo 11 months ago, but it is still a pretty direct message to the team’s two best players — score more goals.

What stands out this time around is that the criticism is probably at least a little more justified. When Lites called out the duo last year it came at a time when the Stars were in a playoff position thanks almost entirely to the play of Seguin and Benn. Their line had been carrying the team and providing the most significant chunk of the team’s offense even if their own individual numbers had declined. Had it not been for them the Stars probably would have been well out of playoff contention given how little forward depth the team had around them.

It’s a little different this year. The recent turnaround that has seen the Stars win seven of their past nine games (collecting 15 out of a possible 18 points) has mostly been carried by the goaltending of Ben Bishop and Anton Khubodin, as well as some secondary forwards.

Seguin does have seven points during the nine games (tied for the team lead during that stretch) but has scored just a single goal. Benn has only three assists during the stretch, only six points for the season, and has not scored a goal in 13 games, one of the worst droughts of his career.

There are a few interesting layers to this.

First, you can not ignore the fact that just like last year when they were the focal point of criticism, Seguin and Benn are being crushed by abnormally low shooting percentages scoring on just four of their 93 shots this season (4.3 percent). You can talk about not bearing down, or not getting to the right areas, or not getting enough quality chances all you want, but there is a pretty big element of bad luck for any two players to only score on 4 percent of their shots. As I’ve pointed out several times (including last year when we were talking about Seguin and Benn) nobody scores goals consistently. Even the top goal-scorers go through phases where they score goals in bunches, and then follow it up with lengthy dry spells. We tend to overrate what they are doing during the hot streaks, and overreact to what they are not doing during the cold streaks. In the end it will all balance out.

The concern isn’t the number of shots they aren’t scoring on, but rather the number of shots they aren’t getting. As of Monday Seguin is averaging 3.01 shots per game, more than a full shot less per game compared to a year ago, and his lowest total since he was a first-and-second year player in Boston. Benn is averaging just 2.11 shots per game, the lowest mark of his career. That is where the concern should be. At some point the shooting luck is going to change and more pucks will start going in for them, but if they’re not generating as many shots they still may not score as much as they normally do.

The last point here is the Stars became way too defensive and conservative in the first part of the season (something that Montgomery recently admitted to) and that has to have limited the play of their top players at least a little bit. For the longest time this team wasn’t playing to its strengths.

I like to bet on talent, and it’s more likely than not that Seguin and Benn are going to start scoring more goals sometime soon, not because they are responding well to criticism, but because that is how hockey works (talent eventually wins). When it happens it could make the Stars an interesting team to watch. They have the goaltending, they have two great top-pairing defenders when healthy, and they improved their depth. They just need their top players to get going, something that hasn’t typically been an issue for them during their time 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.