Joe Pavelski

Penguins keep heating up; Struggling Stars sink lower

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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?

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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.

Stuck on zero: Notable NHL players still searching for first goal

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We are a couple of weeks into the 2019-20 NHL season and there have been some surprising players at the top of the goal-scoring leaderboard, including James Neal, Anthony Mantha, Victor Olofsson, Brayden Schenn, and Erik Haula.

Perhaps just as surprising is the list of players still searching for their first goal, fighting through extended early season slumps.

Every player will go through hot streaks and cold streaks over the course of a season, and when those streaks happen now we tend to pay extra attention to them because there is nothing else around them to hide them. A first line player stuck on zero goals after six or seven games will stick out more than a six-or seven-game drought in the middle of March.

Here are eight notable players still trying to find that first goal. We are limiting this to players that have played in at least six games.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
Games played entering Tuesday:
6
Shots on goal: 16

After scoring 67 goals over the past two seasons Karlsson has gone six games without a goal to open the 2019-20 season. The good news for him: He started each of the past two seasons with zero goals in his first six games before scoring in his seventh game each year.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 14

Barkov has become one of the NHL’s best all-around players over the past couple of years and is one of the reasons for optimism in Florida. He has not scored yet this season but he is doing literally everything else, having already recorded five assists while the Panthers are attempting more than 54 percent of the shot attempts when he is on the ice. Only a matter of time before the puck starts finding the back of the net for him.

Nino Niederreiter, Carolina Hurricanes
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 13

Getting a full season of Niederreiter is a big reason to like the Hurricanes this season. He was a significant addition in the middle of the 2018-19 season and is an outstanding two-way winger that can defend, drive possession, and help create offense. He is still helping to drive possession at an elite rate. He is not a big-time goal-scorer, but he is always a lock for at least 20 goals.

Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars
Games played entering Tuesday: 7
Shots on goal: 10

The Stars have been one of the league’s most disappointing teams so far and Pavelski might be their most disappointing player through the first seven games. Not only as he failed to score a goal, but only generating 10 shots on goal in seven games is a concerning sign. Some regression had to be expected from his 38-goal campaign a year ago (he had a career-high shooting percentage at age 34, which was never going to be repeated) but this has to be discouraging. He also has just one assist.

Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 21 (combined)

The two recent No. 1 overall picks are two of the most important players on the Devils’ roster from a big picture outlook, and so far both have struggled. Hughes has failed to record a point in his first six games and can not seem to buy a goal. Just another thing that has gone wrong for the Devils in a season where nothing has gone as expected.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 6

Schwartz had a bizarre 2018-19 season, struggling through one of the worst regular season performances of his career (mostly due to a terrible shooting percentage) before being unstoppable in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The trouble for Schwartz this season (unlike last season) is he is not yet generating shots.

Milan Lucic, Calgary Flames
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 4

The Flames will try to sell you on the idea he is doing exactly what they want, providing physical play and serving as some sort of protection for their stars. But man, zero goals, zero points, only four shots on goal, a lot of penalty minutes, a huge contract, and the guy he was traded for (James Neal) can not stop scoring goals for their biggest rival. There is no way that trade is a win at this point.

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.

Domi aims to inspire hockey players with Type 1 diabetes

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Max Domi, the son of an NHL player, didn’t get star struck much.

Then at age 13, he met Bobby Clarke.

”My jaw hit the floor, and I was just in shock,” Domi said.

Clarke isn’t just a Hockey Hall of Famer who captained two teams to the Stanley Cup. He’s a Hockey Hall of Famer who captained two teams to the Stanley Cup with Type 1 diabetes. As a hockey player with diabetes, Domi was so inspired by the chance encounter with Clarke that he is trying to do the same thing for the next generation of kids trying to make the NHL despite the complications that come with the disease.

”What him taking a minute out of his day and sharing his story did for me, I was like, ‘Man, if I ever make the NHL or have an opportunity to help kids out, I want to do the same thing,”’ Domi said. ”I started out meeting with kids and sharing my story and talking to them and trying to motivate them like, ‘Listen, whatever you want to do in life, you can still do despite having diabetes.”’

Domi is now in his fourth NHL season and second with the Montreal Canadiens. His book, ”No Days Off,” comes out Oct. 29 and encapsulates in print what the 24-year-old does to play hockey with diabetes and the lessons he tries to deliver to children.

”I never say what they should do, ever. I just tell them what I’ve done, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked,” Domi said. ”I meet with kids almost after every game. That’s just how it is. I like doing it. I enjoy doing it. I take pride in it. I want to keep doing it and growing from that and finding ways to raise money and awareness for something that I deal with on a daily basis and I can relate to a lot of kids out there.”

Domi’s journey was jumpstarted by Clarke, who was diagnosed at 13 when growing up in Manitoba.

Like Domi, he was much more focused on staying on the ice than how diabetes would affect the rest of his life.

”I said to the doctor who had diagnosed me and was looking after me, ‘I’ll still be able to play hockey, eh?”’ Clarke said. ”And he said, yeah. He said, ‘You might want to think of playing goal. It might be easier on you.’ That thought never crossed my mind. … I just said, well I’m going to play hockey.”

Clarke continued to play center and put up 1,210 points over 15 seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. He didn’t really think about becoming a goaltender.

Neither Domi nor Clarke remembers what the conversation went like that day at the rink 11 years ago. But if it’s anything close to what has gone through Clarke’s mind for the past half-century, it was a pretty clear message.

”Diabetes was no reason to not play hockey,” Clarke said. ”You’ve got to live with it, and if you’re going to be a hockey player then be a hockey player. It can’t be an excuse not for playing.”

Domi goes through a 24-hour routine to play each game and knows he has the benefit of modern technology that Clarke lacked in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s. Despite all that, Clarke recalls only twice – once in juniors and once in training camp – where he felt the effects of diabetes because he ”got stupid and didn’t eat.”

”It was fairly simple in those days,” Clarke said. ”There was only one type of insulin. You couldn’t test your own blood sugars and stuff. Not like they can today. The equipment they have today is so much advanced. In those days, I took a needle in the morning and tried to balance the food out the best I could with the insulin that I was taking. I’m sure that my blood sugars must’ve run high – fairly high, I don’t know how high.”

Clarke keeps track of Domi’s career and remembers the standard he held himself to years ago.

”The thing for me that I always told myself is that I’m a hockey player with diabetes. I am not a diabetic hockey player,” Clarke said. ”So diabetes cannot be an excuse for my performance, and it can’t be an excuse for his performance.”

Domi, with 207 points in 304 regular-season games, is doing just fine. But each day is a constant reminder of the challenges ahead and the impact he can make.

”There’s days where I feel sorry for myself, just like everyone does – ‘it’s not fair, why me’ kind of thing,” Domi said. ”I’m like, what am I talking about? This is awesome. Let’s turn this into a positive. Let’s make this like a blessing in disguise and use all the positives that come with being a type 1, the responsibilities that come with it, and drive me to achieve my dreams of playing in the NHL. And that’s kind of where it goes.”

PAVELSKI’S SLOW START

Joe Pavelski recorded one secondary assist in his first four games with the Dallas Stars since signing a $21 million, three-year contract. Change is hard, and the longtime Sharks forward is quickly realizing he’s not in San Jose anymore.

”There’s a lot of simple adjustments,” Pavelski said Tuesday. ”It’s not completely natural. But it’s at a good spot where I feel it’s right there, right around the corner. Just keep going, get a little production and you get that confidence to really kind of take it to another level.”

Dallas coach Jim Montgomery likened it to Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton needing to get accustomed to new catchers when he moved around the majors.

”It’s the nuances of the game, of getting to know people, that comfort level of understanding when this guy has the puck, I go here, I’m going to get the puck,” Montgomery said. ”That just takes time.”

Five biggest surprises of NHL’s opening week

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We’re already through the first week of the 2019-20 season and there have been plenty of interesting storylines and surprises. There’s never been a greater amount of parity in the NHL and that makes for some fun nights. Even though it’s incredibly early, we’re going to run down some of the biggest surprises so far.

There’s an excellent chance that a lot of these trends won’t hold up, but they’re still significant enough for the hockey world to take notice.

Here we go:

Mika Zibanejad is lighting it up:

How good has Zibanejad been for the Rangers through one week of action? Well, he’s already picked up four goals and four assists in just two games. That puts him on pace for 328 points, which we’re pretty sure he won’t hit. He posted a goal and three assists in the opener against the Winnipeg Jets and he shredded his old team, the Ottawa Senators, with three goals and an assist on Saturday night.

The 26-year-old was fantastic for New York last year too, as he posted a career-high 30 goals and 74 points in 82 contests. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that the Rangers won that Zibanejad for Derrick Brassard swap that happened in July of 2016.

His start to the season puts him in some pretty good company:

That’s impressive!

Stamkos isn’t impressed with Lightning’s play: 

The Tampa Bay Lightning ran away with the President’s Trophy last season only to get bounced by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Through three games, the Bolts have a 1-1-1 record which isn’t catastrophic by any means. If you look back to last season, they didn’t hit their third loss until the 10-game mark, so they have work to do if they’re going to match that.

After blowing a 3-1 lead against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, Steven Stamkos made sure to send a message to his teammates and the entire organization.

“Today was a [terrible] game for us,” Stamkos said, per NHL.com. “Unless we change things, it’s going to be a really, really long year. We rely so much on our goaltending and our power play and the passing. It’s three games into the season, that’s the good news. There’s lots of times to correct these things. I don’t want to get too down, but it’s frustrating knowing the group we have in here and we keep continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results.”

No one expected Stamkos to utter those words this early.

[NHL Fantasy Hockey: Olofsson, Haula highlight this week’s best adds]

• The Stars and Sharks have no victories: 

A pair of teams that made the playoffs last season have failed to come up with a win in their first three games of the year. The Sharks have dropped decisions to the Vegas Golden Knights (twice) and the Anaheim Ducks. To make matters worse, San Jose has only found the back of the net three times in three games. That’s clearly not good enough.

The good news, is that Evander Kane has finished serving his suspension for making contact with an official, so he should give his team a boost in their next game which is Tuesday night in Nashville. Again, there’s no reason to panic yet, but the Sharks need to get their act together soon.

The Stars are in the same boat. Dallas was an overtime goal away from making it to the Western Conference Final last year, but that hasn’t translated into success this year. There’s good news, as all three of their losses have been by a single goal.

Dallas’ top guys have to get going in a hurry if they’re going to get back on track. Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov have no points in three games, while Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski each have a point.

• The Detroit Red Wings are…fun? 

Not many experts picked the Red Wings to make the playoffs this season, but some of their young veterans have sent a clear message to the rest of the league during opening week.

The Wings are off to a 2-0-0 start thanks to two wins over Nashville and Dallas. Tyler Bertuzzi had a four-point night against the Predators and followed that up with an assist against the Stars, while Anthony Mantha had three points against Nashville and four goals against Dallas.

Mantha currently has a share of the lead in goals scored with Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews.

“[Mantha] gets exponentially better when he’s playing with confidence, and that’s what you are seeing now,” head coach Jeff Blashill said after Sunday’s win. “When he’s moving his feet and going like this, you are looking at a guy who is 6-foot-5 with speed and great hands and he’s showing that whole package.”

The 25-year-old had a career-high 25 goals in just 67 games with the Wings last season. Is this the year he hits 30?

The Buffalo Sabres aren’t bleeding goals:

Yes, most teams are two games into their season, but what fun would it be if we didn’t read too much into some of these trends. The Sabres, who entered the season with question marks on defense and in goal, have only allowed three goals in their first two games.

Goalie Carter Hutton has stopped 46 of 49 shots he’s faced against the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils and that’s been good enough to earn two wins. Hutton deserves a lot of credit, but his teammates do too.

The Sabres have been really good!

Before we get all excited about the prospect of Buffalo finally being good, we have to remember that they got off to a strong start last year, too. They eventually fell apart and never recovered. Is this the year they get over the hump? Is this the year they shock the NHL? Well, we only have to wait another 80 games before we find out for sure.

What’s coming up this week?
Jack Hughes vs. Connor McDavid, Tues. Oct. 8, 7 p.m. ET

• Sharks vs. Predators, Tues. Oct 8, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Phil Kessel plays game No. 1,000 on Sat., Oct. 12, 9 p.m. ET vs. Avalanche

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY
Devils vs. Flyers, Weds., Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

NHL on NBCSN
Kings vs. Canucks, Weds. Oct. 9, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.