Duncan Keith's absence is being felt by Chicago's offense; the Stars' resilience impresses; playoffs not out of reach for three struggling teams.
A collection of news and notes ahead of a busy hockey weekend:
• The Blackhawks proved this week that they have three-on-three scoring down to a science. Five-on-five, though? That’s something else entirely. After dropping a 3–1 decision to the Jets on Thursday night—getting their lone marker on a first period power play—the Hawks have now gone 235:58 without a scoring an even-strength goal. And that one, by Patrick Kane off a nasty feed from Artemi Panarin, is the only one they’ve scored in regulation. Lack of net presence is one obvious issue.
“At this point in time, we can do things to try to make it tougher on their goalie,” Kane said after Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson stopped 45 shots, few of them on second chance opportunities. “Try to get to the net. Stay at the net. Get shots through. Try to bang in goals that way. Get some dirty goals, because it seems like all of the pretty plays aren't happening for us.”
The bigger issue though might be the absence of Duncan Keith. Although the Hawks have remained sound in their own zone (for the most part) while their No. 1 defenseman recuperates from knee surgery, it’s clear they miss his playmaking ability in transition. The sleek and efficient zone exits that have defined their attack in recent years are few and far between, and they struggle to sustain pressure in the offensive zone without Keith’s poise at the blueline. The schedule isn’t working in their favor as far as chances to break out of this slump go: Chicago plays the Wild on Friday night and the fifth-ranked defense of the Kings on Monday.
• “What’s really good to see is the fact that we had a tough time with adversity last year and this year we’re learning to battle through some tough situations and come up with some big wins,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said after his team’s dramatic 4–3 OT win over Vancouver on Thursday night.
The victory was the second in a row for Dallas in which the Stars came back after trailing in the third period. And while outsiders marvel at this team’s breathtaking offense, its late-game resilience has caught the attention of Stars fans. And it just might be the X Factor that differentiates this season’s squad from the one that fell short of the playoffs last spring.
Those Stars were a meltdown waiting to happen. They lost more games when leading after the second period than every team in the league but Edmonton. They were one of just three clubs, along with Buffalo and Arizona, to allow more than 100 third-period goals and their seven goals-against in overtime tied for the second-most. Their –34 goal differential in the third period and OT was fourth-worst in the NHL. They even lost eight of nine home games that extended beyond regulation.
This season? They’re already +3 in P3/OT and trending higher.
Less tangible is the overall confidence that suggests the Stars have put last season’s mental issues behind them. Instead of finding ways to lose, they’re creating ways to win.
“One thing we are learning is we are never out of a game,” said Patrick Sharp, who had two goals against the Canucks. “We have some firepower in here, we have some speed, and we are well conditioned so we are going to play great right until the end. I think that’s what happened tonight. We got better in the third period and .. .it resulted in a few goals.”
• At first glance, the early returns suggest the Bruins made out like bandits in the summer trade with Florida that brought Jimmy Hayes to Boston in exchange for Reilly Smith. The big winger has collected three goals and eight points through his first eight games with the Black and Gold, all while averaging just 13:17 of ice time, 10th among the team’s forwards. But the inconsistency that convinced the Panthers that he wasn’t part of their foundation continues to be an issue in Boston.
“There are nights when he looks like the best player on the ice, and others where you have to check [the roster] to see if he’s in the lineup,” a scout told SI.com after Hayes potted four points in a 6–2 win over the Avalanche back on Oct. 14. Hayes, who also had three points in Boston’s last game, a 6–0 blanking of the Coyotes, has been all-or-nothing since. The problem is that when he’s not producing, Hayes can be a drain. His 40% Corsi is second worst among the team’s forwards, better only than power-play specialist Ryan Spooner, and this despite playing the second-most protected minutes on the team, behind only Matt Beleskey. Hayes was a decent possession player for the Panthers last season, topping 51%, so he clearly has more to offer. Maybe a return to his old stomping grounds on Friday night will get him moving in the right direction.
• Colton Parayko landed an astonishing 10 shots on goal in the Blues’ 2–1 win over Anaheim on Thursday night. According to Elias, he’s the first rookie to record that many in a game since Alex Ovechkin in 2006. Of course, that count is not entirely accurate. Parayko’s wrister at 10:31 of the third period was at least two feet wide of the target, but because it caromed off the back boards then off Frederik Andersen’s skate and into the net for the game winner, it was recorded as an SOG.
• How damaging have slow starts been for Calgary, Columbus and Anaheim? Since the introduction of the shootout in 2005-06, only 11 teams have recorded five points or fewer in their first 10 games. Only one of them, the 2012-13 Capitals, went on to make the playoffs. Those Caps, who got off to a miserable 2-7-1 mark in that lockout-shortened campaign, went 20-7-2 through March and April and won the Southeast Division title. It doesn’t look like a division winner will emerge from this trio, but given how mediocre the Pacific looks, the other two playoff Western spots aren’t out of reach of the Flames and Ducks just yet.
• The Penguins on Friday sent Kevin Porter down to the minors, clearing the way for Eric Fehr to make his season debut this weekend. The long-time Capitals winger, signed as a free agent over the summer, has been on the sidelines since undergoing “reverse Tommy John surgery” to repair ligament damage in his elbow. There’s no word yet on where coach Mike Johnston might slot him in the lineup, but Fehr’s size and versatility will make him a valuable addition to a forward corps that}s struggling to produce offense. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him skate in both top and bottom-six roles as they try to find the right fit.
The numbers game
• The Oilers may have been lowly in recent years but they've owned the proud Canadiens. Thursday night's win boosted Edmonton’s record to 10-2-3 against the Habs since Dec. 15, 2005.
• Jamie Benn is only the third player in Stars/North Stars history to produce 17 or more points through the team’s first 10 games of a season. The others are Bobby Smith (17 in 1981-82) and Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli (20 in 1986-87).
• At 1-7-2 the Ducks are off to their worst 10-game start since the 1996-97 season when they went 1-7-2 en route to a second-place finish in the Pacific Division, the fourth seed in the playoffs and a second-round exit.
• When former NHL enforcer Todd Ewen died, many players worried that playing the game may have led to his untimely passing. And many wonder if they’ll be next.
• What’s wrong with Sidney Crosby? It’s a fairly long list ...
• Hey, Anaheim: The data suggests that changing a coach at midseason might not have the impact on a team's success you might think.
• Gary Bettman talks World Cup, the All-Star Game and the future of the live-game experience in this Nashville-themed Q&A.
• This might be the day's worst human. Glad to hear this sorry story has a happy ending.
• Fans may love three-on-three action but for this player, it feels like a bag skate. Hard to ignore the fact that more and more stars are voicing their concerns.
• An NHL debut is almost as tough on a parent as it is on a player. Congrats to Steven Gaunce on having a second son make it to the Show.
• Here’s a great piece from Dan Steinberg on Washington’s long, long, long wait for a myth to finally take shape.