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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Oilers' fast start, whether Stars can recover

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Oct. 16 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Do you think the Edmonton Oilers are legit? So far, all their wins are against teams predicted to be at the bottom, though no team is a walk in the park in this league. Will the Oilers make their way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs? -- @ehogan47

The Oilers are playing like they could be legit, but I'm not ready to buy them yet. I need more than six games to make a determination on them given their track record and the fact that their five wins have all been in come-from-behind fashion. They fell behind 2-0 against the Chicago Blackhawks before losing 3-1 at United Center on Monday.

I'd like to see the Oilers get a lead and play with it. They've allowed the first goal in four straight games. They've trailed by one goal 11 times in six games, rallying to tie 10. I'd like to see that trend change. Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hasn't scored a goal yet. He's been good but needs to start scoring too. What happens when forward James Neal cools off? He scored eight goals, including six on the power play.

I have questions and reservations, but the Oilers have shown me a lot of good so far this season too. I like how they're not chasing offense, that they're sticking with their structure and playing their system even when they go down a goal. It's arguably the biggest reason why they've been able to come back in games rather than having the opposition extend the lead, other than against Chicago. I would, however, like to see them generate more shots on goal. They've had more than 30 shots in a game once and are averaging 26.2 per game. I'd like to see them do more off the rush.

Video: EDM@CHI: Neal roofs Nugent-Hopkins' dish for PPG

 

Can the Dallas Stars recover from this 1-5-1 start? Who else but Roope Hintz can score for the Stars? -- @richard55387457

The St. Louis Blues were last in the NHL standings Jan. 3 last season. They won the Stanley Cup. So yes, the Stars can recover from a slow start to a season that is two weeks old and still has 75 games to play in it.

It's the time for overreactions, positive and negative, so I understand your question, but we need to take a longer view. The Stars are talented. They have players who can and should score. They need them to score. Tyler Seguin, the forward who led the Stars with 80 points (33 goals, 47 assists) last season, has three points (two goals, one assist). Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, forwards who combined for 125 points last season (56 goals, 69 assists) each have two points (one goal, one assist). Joe Pavelski, the veteran forward who they signed to a three-year contract, has no goals after scoring 38 with the San Jose Sharks last season. Defenseman John Klingberg has one assist and he had 45 points (10 goals, 35 assists) last season. The track record of each of these players being production drivers is too long for me to believe that they will stay as silent offensively as they have been through seven games. Corey Perry hasn't even played yet. I think the veteran forward could be good for between 15-20 goals when his fractured foot is healed, and he joins the lineup.

Scoring, though, was an issue for the Stars last season too. They were tied with the Arizona Coyotes for 28th in the NHL with 2.55 goals per game. They were driven by their defense and goaltending (2.44 goals-against per game). They're built to be better offensively this season with the additions of Pavelski and Perry, and they will be. Their power play won't stay at 4.5 percent (1-for-22). It will go up. They are doing a good job of limiting shots (27.3 shots against per game), a positive sign for a team with quality goaltending. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin will come around. The Stars aren't in a good place now, but they certainly can recover.

 

After a poor season last season and a slow start to this one, when do the San Jose Sharks move on from Martin Jones and who would be a viable replacement? -- @Scott_T

I know it's been a struggle for Jones since the start of last season, but it's unreasonable to consider the Sharks moving on from the 29-year-old goalie any time soon. Jones is signed through the 2023-24 season; the Sharks signed him to a six-year contract extension July 1, 2017. He's in the second year of that contract and it hasn't gone particularly well. He had a .896 save percentage last season and has an .887 save percentage this season. But struggling last season doesn't mean Jones will again have season-long problems this season. It's been four starts and the Sharks didn't play particularly well in front of Jones in his first three. They finally did against the Calgary Flames on Sunday and Jones was excellent with 32 saves in a 3-1 win. He needs to build on that performance if he's in the net against the Carolina Hurricanes at SAP Center on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; ESPN+, NBCSCA, FS-CR, NHL.TV). The Sharks have to make it work with Jones. They have a lot invested in him.

 

For better or worse, which team has surprised you the most so far? -- @Rob_Oswald

I'll answer for the better, because I don't need to pile on any team less than two weeks into a season. It's the Buffalo Sabres. I wondered about the impact of coach Ralph Krueger. I wondered if the Sabres would have scoring depth. I wondered if their goaltending would be good enough. I wondered about forward Jeff Skinner after getting his eight-year, $72 million contract. 

So far, the Sabres have given me no reason to wonder anymore. Krueger has them playing fast and free. The Sabres are connected all over the ice and moving the puck well. They're also getting it off their sticks quickly, making it harder to defend them. They have 10 players with a goal, 17 with at least a point, including five points (four goals, one assist) for Skinner. Goalies Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have answered the bell, allowing 13 goals on 188 shots (.931 save percentage). Buffalo's power play has been excellent at 42.9 percent. The penalty kill has struggled (76.5 percent), but that's about the only area of the Sabres' game that you can complain about now. 

It's too early to say they've got it all figured out. I thought the Sabres were on their way last season when they won 10 in a row in November. They fizzled fast and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs by 20 points. I'm not yet ready to buy the Sabres at full price, but they're quickly becoming a good bet. I really like how fast they're playing and how good they've been with the puck.

Video: DAL@BUF: Reinhart buries one-timer from the slot

 

If the New Jersey Devils don't turn things around quickly how soon do we see something happen? Coaching change? Trade? -- @paulgodfrey_

I don't think general manager Ray Shero will sit on his hands for too long, but a coaching change would be too drastic of a move. I was and still am big on the Devils this season. I think the talent is there, but chemistry hasn't been. There are a lot of new players and they're still working things out, trying to figure out who works well with who, how to make it all fit. John Hynes, New Jersey's coach, deserves more time to make the pieces work. 

I wonder if external expectations for the Devils are higher than the internal expectations, meaning am I expecting more from them when they're being more realistic? They were a lottery team for a reason last season. They've improved on paper, but in picking them to make the playoffs I didn't consider how long it might take them to jell with all the new faces, including forwards Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds, and defenseman P.K. Subban. Taylor Hall is also just coming back. Remember, the left wing didn't play after Christmas last season because of a knee injury.

The two biggest problems I see from the Devils so far is they're not reacting well to leading in games and their goaltending. They had leads of 4-0 against the Winnipeg Jets and 4-1 against the Florida Panthers, and blew both to lose (shootout against Winnipeg, regulation against Florida). They had three one-goal leads against the Oilers and quickly gave each away before losing 4-3 in a shootout. Their longest stretch with the lead was 5:20. Goaltending has been an issue in all of that, but so have turnovers and the fact that the Devils have tried to skill their way out of trouble instead of rimming the puck up the boards for the simple play. I think these are all correctable mistakes. I think they'll get them fixed too, and eventually they'll get their chemistry together and Hynes will figure out the right combos. But it's reasonable to wonder if it will it be too late, and if the goaltending will hold up even when they get it all figured out.

 

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