Rick Bowness

Stars have extra motivation to grab at least one round of home-ice advantage

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Look, every sports team craves home-field (or in this case, ice) advantage. Even with that in mind, the Stars have plenty of incentive to wrestle away the Central Division’s second seed from the Colorado Avalanche.

The Kings don’t serve as much of a threat on paper, but let’s consider larger trends to see why the Stars should do what they can to take care of business on Wednesday.

Stars fighting through challenges while Avs hit a snag

Looking at the Stars’ and Avs’ recent records alone makes you realize that things could get tight.

Despite all of the turmoil that came from the surprise coaching change of Jim Montgomery being replaced by Rick Browess, the Stars settled down and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. They’ve won four games in a row, with a nice chance to make that five tonight.

You’d think that the Avalanche would climb, not stumble, with several key players returning from injuries. Instead, the Avalanche lost their last game and are a mediocre 4-5-1 in their past 10.

Colorado is still ahead of Dallas for the second seed, but not by much.

Avalanche: 25-14-4 for 54 points in 43 games played
Stars: 24-14-4 for 52 points in 42 GP

Indeed, if the Stars beat the Kings on Wednesday, then it would merely come down to tiebreakers. Kind of hard to believe, right?

[Five players the Kings might trade]

Stars rely on home games

Again, the Stars have serious incentive to try to hop over at least the Avalanche. (The Stars have some chance of leaping the Blues [59 points, 43 GP], but it’s unlikely.)

So far in 2019-20, the Stars boast a 15-6-2 home record, while they’re only 9-8-2 on the road. A stark home/road disparity extends beyond this season, too.

  • The Stars own an 87-45-14 record in 146 home games since 2016-17, the seventh-best mark in the NHL.
  • The Stars rank seventh-worst on the road during that same span (56-70-16 in 142 road games since 2016-17).
  • Overall, they landed very much middle-of-the-pack since 2016-17 began (143-115-30 in 288 GP).
  • This home/road split carries over noticeably from year to year. Things were most extreme in 2016-17; the Stars went 22-13-6 at home and just 12-24-5 on the road.

Those stats provide reasonably compelling evidence that the Stars really are a far more dangerous team in Dallas.

Now, I can’t tell you exactly why the Stars have been that much better at home. Maybe opponents feel sluggish after eating all of that brisket and delicious Tex-Mex food? Perhaps a physical player like Jamie Benn takes it up a notch in front of a partisan crowd? The Stars morphed into a team that sometimes survives on a fairly slim margin of error lately, so maybe the sometimes-subtle home-ice advantages tip the scales?

Either way, with the door open a bit, the Stars should burst through it. Playing key home playoff games could end up making an, erp, Texas-sized difference.

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.

Jim Montgomery checks into rehab for alcohol abuse, backs up firing from Stars

Montgomery statement Stars firing rehab
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Jim Montgomery released a statement on Friday, his first comments since being fired by the Dallas Stars on Dec. 10. Montgomery announced that he admitted himself “into an inpatient residential program” and described the Stars’ decision to fire him as “the appropriate call.”

It’s still unclear what precise incident — or incidents — actually prompted Montgomery’s firing. This statement provides the closest thing to an explanation, even if Montgomery only vaguely references “alcohol abuse.” The Stars merely stated that Montgomery was guilty of “unprofessional conduct” when they fired him weeks ago.

While announcing the firing, Stars GM Jim Nill said that no current or former Stars players or employees were involved in the “act of unprofessionalism.” He also stated that Montgomery’s firing was not related to abuse allegations issues that prompted firings of the likes of Bill Peters, and was not in reaction to the four-point plan announced by the NHL.

Montgomery enters rehab for alcohol abuse

Here are the opening sentences of Montgomery’s statement, shared by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

“Losing my job as head coach of the Dallas Stars last month was a wake-up call. It was also the appropriate call,” Montgomery said in his statement. “I let the team’s front office, staff and players down. More importantly, I let my wife and my family down.”

“The team’s decision to end my role forced me to look into the mirror and decide whether I wanted to continue living a damaging lifestyle or get help. I decided to get help …”

Friedman’s tweet includes the full statement, which you can also read in text form at the bottom of this post.

Nill provided a brief statement to Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News.

“We are supportive of this decision by Jim and we hope that by pursuing this help, he and his family will be stronger for it,” Nill said. “Out of respect for him and his family, we will not be commenting on this situation further.”

State of the Stars

Veteran coach Rick Bowness stepped up from an assistant role to replace Montgomery in December. Since then, the Stars managed a 6-3-1 record, including a comeback win against the Predators in the 2020 Winter Classic.

The Stars currently rank third in the Central Division (23-14-4, 50 points in 41 games played). Montgomery managed a 43-32-7 record as Stars coach in 2018-19, overseeing a playoff run that ended in Game 7 of Round 2 against the Blues. The Stars were 18-11-3 when Montgomery was fired.

Full text of Montgomery’s statement

Losing my job as head coach of the Dallas Stars last month was a wake-up call. It was also the appropriate call. I let the team’s front office, staff and players down. More importantly, I let my wife and my family down.

The team’s decision to end my role forced me to look into the mirror and decide whether I wanted to continue living a damaging lifestyle or get help. I decided to get help. I turned to professionals in the field of alcohol abuse for their guidance and counseling. It has been an overwhelming and a very humbling experience knowing that I am not alone.

Today, with the unconditional support of my wife and family, and many close friends, I took another step forward by admitting myself into an inpatient residential program, where I intend to take the steps to be a better husband, father, friend, coach and mentor – one day at a time. It’s a process I am committed to. As I do this, I ask that my family’s privacy be respected.

Thanks, Monty.

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.

Stars’ Perry on Winter Classic ejection: ‘It was unintentional’

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(UPDATE: Perry will have a Friday DoPS hearing.)

DALLAS — Corey Perry repeatedly described his elbow to the head of Ryan Ellis that got him ejected from the 2020 Winter Classic as “unfortunate” and “unintentional.”

The Stars forward played all of 38 seconds before the hit put him out of the game 2:44 into the first period. The Predators defenseman did not return to the game. Perry was assessed an elbowing major and a game misconduct.

“It was an awkward play,” Perry said after the Stars’ 4-2 win. “I went to the bench to get a stick and came back. I reached out to try to deflect the puck or whatever. It was unfortunate. I’ve played with Ryan before. I know him personally. It’s very unintentional. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I hope he’s OK. This is a big event. I’m sure he had family in here. I had some family here. It’s unfortunate. I just hope he’s OK.”

The hit will be reviewed by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to determine if supplemental discipline is necessary. As James noted earlier, a suspension of at least three games would take Perry out of the Stars’ lineup ahead of their visit next week to Anaheim, where he played 14 seasons.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s just one of those things that happen in the course of a game,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “Corey Perry’s a great competitor and is a wonderful, wonderful player. Sometimes in hockey when you go to make a hit you get into some unfortunate situations and that’s all I can see with that. Corey Perry would never try to hurt anyone. He would play hard, but intentional? No, that’s an unfortunate hit. That’s all.”

Perry said there were a lot of things running through his head as he watched the remainder of the game. Frustration at not being able to take part in the Stars’ comeback was one of those things on his mind. He also said he plans to reach out Ellis, who he knows personally having played with him at the 2016 World Championships with Team Canada.

“Hopefully it’s not too long,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette of Ellis’ status, “but he got banged up pretty good.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars’ Corey Perry ejected for elbowing Predators’ Ryan Ellis

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(UPDATE: Corey Perry, who will have a Friday DoPS hearing, on his ejection: ‘It was unintentional’)

The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators wasted little time in justifying the hype behind their Central Division nastiness. Officials ejected Corey Perry less than three minutes into the 2020 Winter Classic for elbowing Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis.

Perry faced a long walk to the locker room thanks to the unique Cotton Bowl venue. Ellis, meanwhile, looked like he was in a bad way leaving the game. The Predators announced that Ellis won’t return to the game because of an upper-body injury.

Predators fans already disliked Perry for hits from his Ducks days, so this won’t help matters.

The Predators received a five-minute major power-play opportunity thanks to Perry’s hit. Soon after, the Stars were also whistled for a (debatable) delay of game penalty. Interestingly, Stars coach Rick Bowness acknowledged that Perry caught Ellis with an elbow to the head during an on-the-bench interview with Pierre McGuire.

(The Stars visit Anaheim on Jan. 9. If the Department of Player Safety suspended Perry for three games or more for that hit on Ellis, then Perry would miss his return to Anaheim. Perry hasn’t been suspended since March 2013, when he sat four games for a “violent check.”)

Predators take advantage of Perry penalty

The Predators scored two power-play goals to manage an early 2-0 lead in the 2020 Winter Classic, exploiting Perry’s mistake. With 11:22 remaining in the first period, Denis Gurianov drew a penalty shot opportunity, but Pekka Rinne came out on top. The Predators ended the first period with that same 2-0 lead.

To put things mildly, the 2020 Winter Classic is off to hot start. Matt Duchene even scored the first goal of the decade:

The Predators need every standings point they can get, so we’ll see if they can make a strong start stick, or if the Stars can rally back.

Check out this now-eerie photo of Perry from an earlier practice before the Winter Classic:

Perry Getty
Photo by Tim Heitman/NHLI via Getty Images

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.

Predators, Stars ready for unique atmosphere of Winter Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.