Stars’ Joe Pavelski and Jason Robertson keep producing by playing ‘the right way’


The NHL is littered with jaw-dropping, eye-popping, highlight reel-making talent. These players, from established stars like Connor McDavid and Cale Makar to exciting risers like Jack Hughes and Trevor Zegras, are fun to watch. The Stars have their share of these talents as well. Roope Hintz and Miro Heiskanen are examples. Elite skating, efficient puck-handling and a general package of skills that’s attractive social media content.

Saturday night in Carolina, the Stars were a showcase for the other side. Guys who weren’t highly-touted, top-10 draft picks (Hintz the exception in the aforementioned group). Guys who don’t “wow” viewers with their skating or their speed. But for those who watch the games, the brilliance of these players is just as enjoyable and remarkably effective.

These are the Jason Robertsons and Joe Pavelskis of the world.

In the 5-4 overtime loss to the Hurricanes, Robertson was impossible to miss. His presence wasn’t necessarily tied to the scoresheet, though he did tally three assists to reach 46 points on the season, tied for fourth in the NHL. The points are a fine validation of Robertson’s efforts but his impact on the game wasn’t what he did, as much as it was how he did it.

Robertson was a bulldog all night. He hounded the puck, hunted puck battles and won most of the ones he found and played with tenacity. He played almost two minutes more than the next forward on the team and almost four minutes above his season average but his energy was consistent, from puck drop through overtime.

Robertson’s second assist of the game wasn’t anything unusual. It came on an early second-period power play in which the Stars worked the puck up from Hintz down low. Hintz climbed the ladder to Robertson, who dished it to Jamie Benn in the right circle before getting the puck back on the perimeter. Robertson held the puck long enough to move the Carolina penalty kill before passing it back up top to Heiskanen at the point. There was enough of a lane created for Heiskanen to slice the puck through traffic, where Benn fought hard to get his stick on it and deflect it home.

Moments later, Robertson had the kind of shift that defines his game. During his 18-game points streak earlier this season, in which he led the NHL in goals, Robertson’s results were the story. When a player is on that kind of hot streak, the process becomes forgotten. In the middle of the second period, Robertson had a shift that didn’t end in a Stars goal but it showed what can sometimes get lost about Robertson.

Robertson entered the zone with the puck and dropped it off to Nils Lundkvist, who put a shot at the net. The puck trickled up the left wall to the blue line, where Robertson greeted it, set up and launched a shot at the net, giving Hintz and Pavelski, who were in the vicinity, a chance at making something happen.

Brett Pesce made a good play and swiped the puck to the right wall. In the meantime, Robertson shot down and engaged with Jordan Martinook for position in the slot. Hintz passed the puck up the wall to the corner, where Robertson battled with Pesce and Brady Skjei. After the puck was whacked to the neutral zone, Robertson stayed hot in pursuit. He escorted Skjei to the wall and forced the Hurricanes to just clear the puck back, where Heiskanen collected it and the Stars regained possession.

“He’s always around the pile,” Pavelski said. “He’s always around the puck. Good support and he’s got a great knack for pulling pucks out of the pile with momentum and making that next play, finding the next play. He doesn’t get tied up very often down there. It allows our movement, as a line, to kind of stay fluid and have that attack and turn pucks over when we do lose them.”

Robertson’s third assist was a primary helper in the middle of the third period that clinched a point for the Stars. In the moments preceding it, Robertson showed off his ability to produce the “attractive social media” type of play as he took a Pavelski feed, put the puck through his legs, and tried to set up a shot. The puck got away and got lost in a crowd but Robertson quickly moved on. He anticipated the next play and was in the right spot behind the net to receive the pass from Jani Hakanpaa, work his way back up, and then feed Hakanpaa in the circle, where he shot and scored.

“I think the biggest thing: he does it the right way,” Pavelski said. “It’s just a good reminder that you don’t need to cheat for offense when you’re on the same page and doing the right things.”

You can take Pavelski’s words about the 23-year-old Robertson and apply them to the 38-year-old Pavelski himself. One difference between the two linemates is obviously that Pavelski has been doing it for 1,040 games longer than Robertson. Saturday night was Pavelski’s 1,200th NHL game, a remarkable feat for the 2003 seventh-round pick who, like Robertson, hasn’t drawn rave reviews about his speed and skating.

“Lot of fun times along the way,” Pavelski said. “Lot of laughs, very fortunate, good health. Lot of little things you learn along the way from your teammates and coaches that hopefully give you a chance to keep playing into the future and keep racking up some games along the way. Lot of good times.”

“Games played is a big milestone,” Robertson said. “Whenever you can go over a thousand, it’s obviously significant. It’s great for him and here’s to 1,300.”

It hasn’t prevented Pavelski from carving out a Hall of Fame type of career, though, and Dallas’ first goal of the game was a good display of why that’s the case.

First, Pavelski won the opening draw on the power play, which was not a given for the Stars early on in Carolina. He then put on a 30-second show in which he first received a pass from Robertson going downhill and fed Hintz a golden opportunity that clanked off the post. Then, he set up on the other side and fed Robertson across the ice for a tougher look that was interrupted by Jesper Fast. After shadowing the puck, Pavelski set up camp in his office in front of the goaltender, where he did his signature play of tipping home a shot by Robertson.

The tip was Pavelski’s 158th power-play goal of his career, breaking a tie with Mike Modano for sole possession of fourth-most among U.S. born players in NHL history.

“Longevity is probably the biggest thing you see and notice,” Robertson said. “He still shows up every game prepared. It’s impressive.”

The hockey cliché often used to marvel about players like Robertson and Pavelski is “the puck seems to find them” or “the puck follows them around.” Reality is more so the inverse. Robertson and Pavelski find the puck and follow it around. They make the right plays, with and without the puck. Whatever they lack tangibly, they make up for with relentless effort and heightened hockey IQ. In the end, it’s the results that follow them around. Three assists and 1,200 games played are a testament to that.

Quick hitters

• The game was a special teams fest, especially early on. The Stars had five power play opportunities on seven Carolina penalties while the Hurricanes had four on six Dallas penalties. Both teams had time at five-on-three but unlike the Stars, the Hurricanes cashed in, though they had a more extended run at it.

• On Carolina’s five-on-three score, Ryan Suter and Esa Lindell both appeared to be looking for a high-sticking stoppage moments before the goal was scored. Head coach Pete DeBoer said the Stars didn’t have conclusive evidence on their camera angles to know whether the puck grazed the high stick.

• In overtime, the Stars dominated possession for much of the frame. However, one lethal rush by Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov was all it took to end it. The Stars moved to 2-6 in games beyond regulation.

• The Stars would have liked to get two points but they picked up a solid road point against a top team in the NHL. They have fared well on a tough road trip, which concludes in Columbus on Monday.

Scoring distribution

3A (Robertson) — Hintz — 1G (Pavelski)
1G (Benn) — Johnston — Marchment
Gurianov — Faksa — 1G (Seguin)
Kiviranta — Glendening — Dellandrea

2A (Heiskanen) — Lundkvist
Lindell — 1G (Hakanpaa)
Suter — 1A (Miller)

.868 save percentage (Wedgewood)

This lineup was a carryover from the third period in Washington on Thursday. Given the heavy special teams’ influence throughout the game, it’s hard to properly gauge the results but none of the lines outside of the top unit statistically graded out very well.

Three plays

These are three non-scoring plays that stood out.

Robertson’s overtime effort

Robertson was separated from the puck entering the zone by a hit from Jordan Staal. His effort to get right after it resulted in Brent Burns being unable to corral the puck and instead swiping it away, which ended up with Wyatt Johnston getting it back for the Stars.

Wedgewood’s key minute

Midway through the second period, Carolina had a couple of great scoring opportunities in tight but Wedgewood did a good job denying the scores.

Carolina’s early chances

Within the first five minutes of the game, the Hurricanes had multiple opportunities to take an early lead. These two in particular came after the Stars lost defensive zone faceoffs. On the first, Svechnikov tried some trickery:

On the second, Lindell did a good job contesting but the Stars were fortunate a wide-open net wasn’t filled with the puck:

(Photo of Stars center Joe Pavelski celebrating his goal against the Hurricanes: James Guillory / USA Today)


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