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| In return to the NHL, Stars forward Valeri Nichushkin remains goalless: 'I know I will be better'
17 ноября 2018 года. By Matthew DeFranks , Sports Reporter. Dallas News
FRISCO -- When Valeri Nichushkin takes the ice Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn against the Islanders, 989 days will have passed since his last goal in the NHL.
It's not a normal scoring drought -- largely bridged by two seasons in the KHL -- but it's also enveloped by 26 consecutive scoreless regular season and playoff NHL games in 2016 and 14 straight goalless games this season. The Stars winger has not scored a NHL goal since March 4, 2016, during his first stint in the NHL.
He returned to Dallas this season as a 23-year-old, a more mature, more comfortable player and person than he was as a teenager when he broke into the league as a first-round pick in 2013. But the goals have not followed.
"Tough start, but I feel better every game, especially the last three games, I had a lot of moments," Nichushkin said. "I need to score and I think everything will be good. Team's winning so I don't care. I know I will be better."
Nichushkin's return to the Stars (10-7-2) was delayed by a groin injury that popped up during the exhibition season and forced him to miss six of the season's first nine games. When he did enter the lineup, Nichushkin first occupied the fourth line and played more than 13 minutes just once in his first eight games.
As Nichushkin became more comfortable, Stars coach Jim Montgomery moved him up the lineup, often playing alongside Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza. In the last five games, Nichushkin has averaged 13 minutes, 57 seconds of ice time.
But the goals have not followed. He forced a turnover behind the net in Washington to set up a Jamie Benn goal two weeks ago. He entered the offensive zone with ease against San Jose to set up a Devin Shore goal.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Nichushkin has seven individual scoring chances in the last three games.
"Val's details have been really good without the puck," Montgomery said. "Defensively, has been a pleasant surprise. I'm talking puck pressure and in the d-zone. Offensively, I don't think his game is where he wants it to be or where our team needs it to be."
While Nichushkin might be better away from the puck than expected, the Stars are counting on him to score goals. He -- along with Miro Heiskanen -- was one of the team's key offseason additions, and was penciled in on the second line to provide secondary scoring. The top line was supposed to carry the load most nights, but Nichushkin could chip in when needed.
Coming into the season, he was one of the most important Stars, a player on which the season could pivot depending on his performance. The emergence of Shore and Jason Dickinson has lessened the sting of Nichushkin's goalless start, but Montgomery still wants more from the Russian in the offensive zone.
"First of all, I don't think he protects the puck long enough in corners, which is clearly a strength of his with his body and his skill set," Montgomery said.
Nichushkin ranks fourth on the team with 6.8 shots on goal per 60 minutes, but has often been criticized for not lifting the puck.
During Friday night's 1-0 overtime win over Boston, Nichushkin had an opportunity to score, when he helped caused a turnover in the neutral zone before receiving a feed from Mattias Janmark in the slot. Nichushkin whipped a shot gloveside on Tuukka Rask, but Rask easily stopped it.
"If we're losing, I'm frustrated," Nichushkin said. "But if we win, everything's fine."