roope hintz

Injuries mounting for surging Stars

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Thanks in large part to starting goalie Ben Bishop returning to form the Dallas Stars are in the process of digging themselves out of the deep hole they jumped into at the start of the season.

They will have to continue that process over the next couple of weeks without two of their top players.

Already without John Klingberg, their top defensemen who will be sidelined for at least the next two-to-four weeks, coach Jim Montgomery announced on Thursday that leading goal-scorer Roope Hintz will also be sidelined for the next two weeks. Hintz already missed the Stars’ most recent game when they beat Colorado, 4-1.

He already has nine goals this season in 17 games. No other player on the team has more than five goals as of Thursday.

Obviously it’s not an ideal situation, especially with a difficult stretch of games ahead of them, but with Bishop and Anton Khudobin playing the way they have been in goal they should be able to stay in games. Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov are also starting to pick up their production, while their top duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn has been snakebit so far this season and should hopefully be on the verge of a breakout sometime soon.

Related: Ben Bishop is back on track and so are the Stars

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

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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.

Blue Jackets’ Milano scores ridiculous between-the-legs goal vs. Stars

Sidney Crosby scored a wonderful highlight reel goal despite hard-working defense, yet he has some competition for Wednesday’s best one-man effort.

Sonny Milano hasn’t always been able to justify being selected 16th overall in 2014 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but there have been flashes of brilliance when he’s avoided landed in John Tortorella’s doghouse. The 23-year-old authored his best NHL effort so far against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, beating Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz, and Ben Bishop, making a great move and then finishing his chance with the sort of between-the-legs move you’d see in a shootout.

You’re just not supposed to be able to that at full speed in NHL action, particularly against quality players and Bishop, who finished second in Vezina voting in 2018-19.

That goal ended up standing as the game-winner as Columbus beat Dallas 3-2 on Wednesday, too.

So, which goal do you prefer: Milano’s (above this post’s headline) or Crosby’s from the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 OT win against the Colorado Avalanche?

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.

The Buzzer: Mantha among boys

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Three Stars

1. Anthony Mantha, Detroit Red Wings

Well, the Predators should feel a little better on Sunday than they did on Saturday. The night before, Nashville fared about as well vs. Mantha, Dylan Larkin, and Tyler Bertuzzi as normal pants hold up against Larkin in Detroit’s 5-3 win. They were stretched too thin and didn’t stand a chance, in other words.

Mantha was even tougher to stop on Sunday. Through the second period and the opening moments of the third, Mantha scored three goals in a row (a natural hat trick), flipping a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 lead for Detroit over Dallas. The Stars ended up tying the game, but it was all for naught, as Mantha scored the fourth goal, and ultimately the game-winner, with less than a minute remaining.

It’s probably unfair to label the game “Mantha 4, Stars 3,” but that does capture the goal-scoring. The big winger now has five goals and two assists for seven points in two games. Larkin and Filip Hronek factored into that win, too, with two assists apiece.

2. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

A lot was made about the Islanders moving on from Robin Lehner to Semyon Varlamov during the offseason, and with good reason. Lehner was a revelation last season, and betting on Varlamov is pretty bold.

But for all the attention Lehner justifiably received for his work in 2018-19, Greiss put up numbers that were almost as outstanding, going 23-14-2 with a magnificent .927 save percentage.

Greiss began this season on a similar note, stopping 35 out of 36 shots from the Jets to help the Islanders beat Winnipeg handily on Sunday. So far, Barry Trotz’s system and the Islanders’ goalies are looking strong.

3. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes

There were plenty of worthy two-point performances on Sunday that you could argue for, including Roope Hintz of the Dallas Stars, whose two goals gave his team a chance against the Mantha onslaught.

Hamilton’s all-around performance might have been the most worthy of the third star, though. He scored the goal that sent Sunday’s game to overtime, and also generated an assist. As mentioned in this post on that game against the Lightning, Hamilton is tied for the Hurricanes’ team points lead with four so far in 2019-20.

Hamilton generated three SOG, took a penalty, delivered a hit, and logged 25:19 TOI.

Highlight of the Night

Thanks to Mantha most of all, the Stars lost in regulation, falling to 0-3-0.

The Stars were about as close to sending the game to overtime as you could be, though, especially when Alexander Radulov was hacking away at Jonathan Bernier‘s pads during the waning seconds of the game. Bernier stood strong — or at least strong enough to survive the review process — and secured a perfect weekend for Detroit. Not bad, being that the Stars and Predators both made the playoffs last season, and brought significant expectations into 2019-20.

Factoids

  • Mantha joined John Sorrell (Nov. 12, 1933) and Brendan Shanahan (Oct. 16, 1998) as the only Red Wings to generate a natural hat trick. Sorrell and Mantha are the only two Red Wings to score four goals during a home-opener. (via NHL PR)
  • In coaching his 1,608th NHL game, Barry Trotz broke a tie with Al Arbour to be alone at third all-time. Trotz is only 30 behind Joel Quenneville, so it should be fascinating to see which of those two ends up with more games behind the bench once they’re both done.
  • NHL PR notes that the Hurricanes became the 13th team in league history to win their first three games while overcoming a deficit. The 2005-06 Predators and 1988-89 Kings are the two teams who’ve done it four times. They’re also the third team to start their season 3-0-0 with all three wins coming beyond regulation, according to Sportsnet stats.

Scores

CAR 4, TBL 3 (OT)
DET 4, DAL 3
NYI 4, WIN 1

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Dallas Stars

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The Stars were one of the most top-heavy teams in the league last season with Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Miro Heiskanen driving almost all of the scoring. Only three forwards on the team managed more than 30 points, and if offense wasn’t coming from the Seguin-Benn-Radulov trio, it wasn’t going to come from anywhere. They attempted to address that over the summer with the signings of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. That should be an improvement. Perry is a bit of a wild card because his career has fallen off so much in recent years, but Pavelski should still be able to drive a second scoring line that the Stars desperately need. How much better remains to be seen, but they are better.

Strengths: Simply put, it is the top of their lineup and it is not limited to any one position. Whether it be at forward where they have a great top line (Seguin-Benn-Radulov), on defense (Klingberg and Heiskanen) or in net (Ben Bishop) each layer of the roster has top-line talent. That matters a lot. You can not compete for a championship without elite players, they are the toughest players to find and acquire, and the Stars have a bunch of them at the most important positions. Seguin is one of the league’s best offensive players, Klingberg is already a Norris contender, Heiskanen might one day join him, and Bishop has been a Vezina finalist three different times.

Weaknesses: If their strength is the top of the lineup, then it only makes sense that their weakness is everything after that. The Stars’ bottom three lines were so bad a year ago that when none of Seguin, Benn, or Radulov were on the ice at 5-on-5 the Stars were outscored by a 77-56 margin and controlled less than 48 percent of the total shot attempts. That is, in a word, bad. If the Stars are going to be more than just a playoff team and become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender that has to improve.

[MORE: X-Factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): In his first season behind the Stars’ bench Jim Montgomery had the Stars in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and was a double overtime Game 7 goal away from being in the Western Conference Final. It would take a complete meltdown for his job to be in any sort of jeopardy at this point. So we will go with a 1 out of 10 for him on the hot seat rating this season.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Heiskanen, Pavelski, and Roope Hintz are three players worth keeping an eye on in Dallas this season.

Let’s start with Heiskanen because the expectations for him are beginning to shoot through the roof. His rookie season was sensational and so good that Bishop already declared him to be one of the best defenders he has ever played with and a future Hall of Famer. He just turned 20 years old this summer and seems to have unlimited potential. How big of a step he takes in year two will be a fascinating development to watch.

When it comes to Pavelski the biggest question is what he is going to be capable of producing. He has been one of the league’s best goal-scorers over the past six years and is coming off a monster 38-goal performance (in only 75 games) for the San Jose Sharks. But he just turned 35 years old and had a career-high 20 percent shooting percentage a year ago. He is probably not going to be that efficient with his shooting this season so you should expect some kind of a regression. Even if he is a 25 or 30 goal player that is still a huge boost to the Stars’ lineup.

Hintz took a huge step forward over the final two months of the regular season, recording 17 points in 32 games between the beginning of February and the end of the regular season. He continued that strong play in the playoffs with 13 points (five goals, three assists) in the Stars’ playoff games. Him being able to build off that and become a strong complementary piece would go a long way toward solving some of the depth concerns.

Playoffs or lottery: This is a playoff team, and potentially a pretty good one. The Western Conference is still pretty wide open and there remains a pretty big gap between the playoff teams and the rest of the pack. Depending on how much they can get out of Palelski and Perry, as well as any improvement from returning young players (Heiskanen, Hintz, etc.) this could be a top-three team in the Central and potentially even compete for the top spot.

MORE:
Pavelski, Perry missing pieces for Stars?
• 
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.