Blackhawks

NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Can Stars solve goaltending woes?

NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Can Stars solve goaltending woes?

CSN Chicago will unveil a preview each day for every Central Division team leading up to the NHL's season-opener. Next up: Dallas Stars.

The Stars saw a 15-point improvement from 2014-15 to 2015-16 thanks to a scorching hot 28-8-3 start in the first three months last season, which helped them capture the Central Division crown for the first time since 1997-98.

Credit that to a high-powered offense that scored a league-high 265 goals, which was 17 goals better than the second-place team. It will be hard for the Stars to match that total, but that doesn't mean they'll rank among the tops in goals scored again.

Their weaknesses began to show down the stretch, however, with a leaky defense and a goaltending tandem that allowed the most goals of any playoff team in the regular season with 230.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

That needs to change if the Stars have any shot at seriously contending for a Stanley Cup. The problem is, there is $10.5 million committed to Kari Lehtonen ($5.9 million) and Antti Niemi ($4.5 million) through 2017-18, and it's difficult to see any team taking one of those contracts off their hands unless at least one of them has a strong first half.

It's especially tough to swallow knowing goaltenders like Ben Bishop and Marc-Andre Fleury could be on the market at the trade deadline with the threat of Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh losing them for nothing during next year's expansion draft.

Losing Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell hurts a Stars blue line that is figuring out how to patch up playing in their own zone, but the addition of Dan Hamhuis should help take some of the pressure off of young defensemen Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell, both of whom are being counted on to step up in larger roles and are capable of it.

Other previews: Colorado Avalanche

Upsetting the hockey gods? Dylan Sikura feels close to breaking through for first NHL goal

Upsetting the hockey gods? Dylan Sikura feels close to breaking through for first NHL goal

Dylan Sikura has appeared in 30 career NHL games. He's been on the ice for 124 scoring chances, according to naturalstattrick.com. Forty-nine of those have been from high-danger areas. He has 50 shots on goal himself. But he's still looking for his first goal.

What did he do to upset the hockey gods?

"I don't know, it's a little bit of a struggle right now," a smiling Sikura told NBC Sports Chicago. "But individually and as a team the last four or five games we've been pretty good. Hope the goals will come, but any way I can contribute or help out ... I'm feeling good, feel like I'm doing some good things out there and helping the team win, and ultimately that's the end goal for us. We want to be in that playoff spot, we want to make a push here, so if it's contributing away from the scoresheet, then that's what I'll have to do and that's how I'll do it then. Hopefully I get one before it's too late."

On Wednesday in Toronto, Sikura had one of his best games in a Blackhawks sweater. He had a primary assist, career-high five shots on goal, was on the ice for 14 shots on goal for and only five against at even strength and had a plus-2 rating. He followed that up on Saturday in Montreal with an even better game, even though the scoresheet didn't reflect it.

For the second straight game, Sikura led the Blackhawks in possession numbers, had six shot attempts (four on goal, one hit the crossbar and the other was blocked) and was on the ice for a team-high 13 scoring chances and six high-danger chances at even strength. That's a formula that will work in the long term and, if he can carry over performances like that, it will only be a matter of time before he breaks through.

"The way he’s playing, yeah, he will," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I’m sure it’s frustrating for him not to score, but he’s being impactful every game, he’s helping the guys he’s on the ice with have positive shifts and he’s making some plays. It just hasn’t gone in for him. If he continues to play the way he has, he’s going to be really valuable for us."

Jonathan Toews has been Sikura's linemate for several games now, and acknowledged that he's been doing the right things on the ice. The Blackhawks captain even gave Sikura a hug mid-game on Saturday after the latter rang one off the crossbar in the second period. 

"He's making plays, he's confident with the puck, I think that's No. 1," Toews said. "He knows he's getting chances every night. What else can you do? Sometimes they don't go in and it's one of those things he's going to have to work for his first one and it'll be all downhill from there."

The hockey gods have a way of evening things out over time. Sometimes the goals come when you're not playing you're best, and sometimes they don't go in when they should be. There's a decent chance that when Sikura finally scores his first, the floodgates could open. That's the nature of the sport.

"All throughout your life you go through spurts where you don't score or you're scoring goals that shouldn't be going in," Sikura said. "But I think over time hopefully this is something we can laugh about maybe two or three years down the road. For now obviously it's tough, but hopefully I get that first one and the hockey gods turn on my side and I can get a couple more."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

NHL names Brendan Perlini the Second Star of the Week

NHL names Brendan Perlini the Second Star of the Week

Brendan Perlini was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week on Monday.

He scored five goals and racked up seven points in the three games the Blackhawks played last week, three wins as part of their ongoing five-game winning streak.

Perlini logged a hat trick, the first of his career, in last Monday's game against the Arizona Coyotes, his former team. He followed that up with another three-point effort in Wednesday's win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and scored a goal in Saturday's game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Perlini's up to 20 points on the season, with 13 goals and seven assists. Eleven of those goals and three of those assists have come as a member of the Blackhawks.

The 22-year-old Brit will look to keep his point streak going in Monday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.