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Central Division notebook

Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn believe Stars can make run to playoffs

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The Dallas Stars are learning the hard way how challenging the burden of expectations can be.

After finishing first in the Western Conference with 109 points and getting to the Western Conference Second Round last season, Dallas is four points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot and struggling to find any semblance of consistency with 19 wins and 48 points in 49 games (19-20-10) this season.

"When you don't have expectations it seems like it's OK to be .500, but when you have them it's not OK," captain Jamie Benn said. "Where we're sitting at right now, it's not good enough. We've got to put our work in to get to a playoff spot."

"This season was probably the most expectations we've had of ourselves, as a team, from the outside," all-star forward Tyler Seguin said. "I don't know if that's had any factor on the year but it's something that has been different from what we've seen in the past."

Seguin, who has faced expectations on an individual level since he arrived in the NHL as the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, noted how team expectations have a trickle-down effect.

"The pressure can sometimes be a little bit higher on yourself when there is more on the team, when you're that guy that has to produce and be one of the leaders," he said. "It's definitely manageable and in the end I try to think that I have so much expectations of myself that I try to push everything else from the outside away, but it's about putting that together in one piece."

Seguin has done that with 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) in 49 games. But he's still a team-worst minus-14 despite having a 51.13 shot-attempts percentage (SAT).

Video: MIN@DAL: Seguin puts home Roussel's nifty pass in 2nd

Benn, who has 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 45 games, has struggled at times with his own gaffes with the puck. The Stars also haven't gotten a consistent game out of forward Jason Spezza, who has 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) and is a minus-12 despite his 51.09 SAT percentage.

In addition, Dallas has been hurt by the fact only one of its four young defensemen has been reliable on a consistent basis.

Rookie Esa Lindell is second among Dallas defenseman in ice time per game at 21:05, but Stephen Johns, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak have struggled to even stay in the lineup because of their play and injuries.

And then there is the Stars penalty kill, ranked 29th in the NHL at 74.3 percent.

Critics talk about the Stars goaltending woes and they certainly have their warts, but Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen are a combined sixth in the League in 5-on-5 save percentage at .930. Their overall save percentage drops to .897, or 27th in the NHL, when you factor in special teams.

And yet Seguin and Benn, the two drivers in Dallas, still believe the Stars have a run in them, that they can correct some of their issues and get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Why?

The standings, Seguin said.

Even with all of their problems, the Stars are four points out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with 33 games to play.

"It is there for us to go and grab it, take it," Seguin said. "We're going to get through this. Leaders are going to lead the way. I know our captain is going to lead the way. We'll lift each other and get through this."

 

Predators charging for myriad reasons

Forget for a moment the Nashville Predators coughed up a two-goal lead late in the third period and lost 5-4 in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. With the way the Predators have been trending, that blown lead and loss could simply be a blip.

The Predators knew when they headed out on a five-game road trip two weeks ago that their chances of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs would have taken a massive hit if they didn't come away with a significant amount of points.

They got eight out of 10. They're up to third place in the Central Division.

Video: BUF@NSH: Arvidsson scores PPG on second effort in 3rd

Not only did coach Peter Laviolette win his 500th game with 4-2 victory at the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, Nashville won despite the power play going 1-for-16.

But the Predators surge started before they went west with games at the Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Wild. They won their two home games before the trip, each 2-1 against the Canucks and Boston Bruins. It was a sign of what was to come, and a change from what has been happening to them.

Seven of the Predators' past eight games have been decided by one goal; they are 5-1-1 in those games. Nashville was 3-3-7 in their first 13 games decided by one goal or in the shootout.

Another change has been the production the Predators have gotten from forward Filip Forsberg, who has six goals, including four game-winners, in the past seven games. Forsberg had two goals in the first 27 games; he has 13 goals in the past 21 games.

What's noticeable with Forsberg is how much his shooting and his shooting percentage numbers are up. Forsberg was averaging 2.40 shots per game and shooting 3.08 percent in the first 27 games; he is averaging 3.08 shots per game and shooting 20 percent since.

His shooting percentage was bound to go up based on his history. He's an 11.6 percent career shooter, including 13.4 percent last season. Forsberg helped give it a nudge by firing the puck more, closer to his average from the previous two seasons (2.95 shots per game).

Put all of that together with improved goaltending from Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, and all of a sudden the Predators look like playoff contenders again.

 

Stat pack

A problem for the Stars this season is they are 2-10 in games decided after regulation, including 2-9 in overtime. They lost their first shootout of the season to the Wild on Tuesday. … Minnesota leads the NHL with 35 road points (15-5-5), and set a franchise record with points in 13 consecutive road games (11-0-2). … The St. Louis Blues are seventh in the NHL in goals scored in the second period with 50. The problem is the Blues are minus-8 in goal differential in the second period because they are 29th in goals against with 58. … The Predators have allowed a League-low 32 goals in the second period, when they are an NHL-best plus-27 in goal differential. In addition, Nashville is the only team in the NHL without a regulation loss in games when it scores the first goal. The Predators are 15-0-5 in such games. … The Chicago Blackhawks have sold out 401 consecutive games at United Center, including 62 playoff games. The streak began on March 30, 2008 and they are 264-97-40 in the 401 games. Chicago has the third longest active sellout streak in the NHL behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (456) and the Edmonton Oilers (449), according to the Blackhawks public relations staff.

 

Games to watch

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild (Jan. 26, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV) -- It's the last game before the All-Star break for each team. The Blues are trying to build on a 3-0 win against the Penguins on Tuesday. The Wild will try to build on their two-point lead in the division.

Columbus Blue Jackets at Nashville Predators (Jan. 26, 8 p.m. ET; FS-TN, FS-O, NHL.TV) -- A chance for the Predators to continue their point streak, which is at four games (3-0-1) but also wash away the sour taste of blowing a two-goal lead in the final six minutes of regulation before losing to the Sabres in overtime Tuesday.

Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins (Jan. 31, 7 p.m. ET; ROOT, FS-TN, NHL.TV) -First game out of the break is a doozy for the Predators, but they beat the Penguins 5-1 in Nashville on Oct. 22. Granted, Sidney Crosby didn't play in that game since he was out with a concussion.

Chicago Blackhawks at San Jose Sharks (Jan. 31; 10:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, CSN-CA, NHL.TV) -- This is the first game in a six-game road trip for Blackhawks coming out of the All-Star break. They are 12-9-1 on the road this season. They lost 2-1 at San Jose on Nov. 23, but beat the Sharks 4-1 at home on Dec. 18.

Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild (Feb. 8, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) -- A matchup between the top two teams in the division. Two points separate the Wild and Blackhawks, but Minnesota has three games in hand. The Wild's games in hand will be down to two when they play Chicago.

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