It's finally here. The Dallas Stars are back in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As hipster favorites, granted, but it's not without merit. Dallas is officially the number one team in the Western Conference. Their opponent is a struggling Wild team missing Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, and now Erik Haula. No problem, right?
Well, not really. A team like the Wild are like a fingerless glove wearing, coin collecting version of the LA Kings. They rely on a strong system, and depth at important positions such as center and defense. In other words, Dallas will command their respect. Projected Lineup?
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter - Zac Dalpe - Jason Pominville
Chris Porter - Mikael Granlund - David Jones
Ryan Carter - Jarret Stoll - Justin Fontaine
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella - Matt Dumba
Jonas Brodin - Christian Folin
Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Tyler Seguin
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Ales Hemsky
Colton Sceviour - Vernon Fiddler - Valeri Nichushkin*
Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg
Jonny Oduya - Stephen Johns
Kris Russell - Jason Demers
*Janmark could conceivably slot onto the 4th line but I can't imagine Sharp getting put anywhere below the 2nd line. And no way does Ruff break up the Fak'Em crew. No, I don't like Eakin anywhere near the top six. But I suppose it's better sheltering him than giving him the checking line reigns again. And to be fair, they're one of the better trios in terms of shot quality, and expected goal differential.
Dallas' Power Play ranks 4th in the NHL. The Wild are an average 15th in the league, which is impressive considering their lack of firepower. They do it off the blood, sweat, tears, but mostly sweat of Ryan Suter. He's racked up 21 of his 38 points on the Power Play. He would rank 6th on Dallas' squad by comparison. Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg all have more. In other words-
Edge Dallas all day and twice on Sunday. Special of the day? Buy two donuts get one free.
Despite the Wild's reputation as a defensively stout team, their PK ranks 27th in the league. This is compared to Dallas, who ranks 10th. Chris Porter and Nate Prosser are some of their better PK players. Dallas needs to attack Jarret Stoll in particular, who bleeds chances on the PK. For Dallas, it's all about whether they can successfully wedge, and defend against Suter at the point.
Edge Dallas Monday through Friday. Closed on weekends when Radek Faksa trains in some indeterminate mountains while the boom box plays Hearts on Fire.
This is where Dallas has it a little tough. Dallas is 3rd in the league in shot differential. But it's because they generate so many chances. They're 19th in the league in raw shots against. The Wild are only a smidgen better in this category, but as Stephen Burtch pointed out.
Just for the record - this year DAL vs MIN. MIN scored 12 goals vs 8 for DAL at 5v5. 5v5 HD SCF were 51-43 for MIN.— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) April 14, 2016
So this is a tough even strength matchup for Dallas. Because Burtch is made up of transistors, and clockwork, he's picking the Wild over Dallas because Parise's shot rates dropped, and so is "not as important".
Edge: even. The Wild's combination of blueline/goaltending will be what keep this from being a route.
Depending on who starts, Dubnyk is either much better than Dallas' goaltending, or galactically better than Dallas' goaltending:
Final Mercad chart for 2015-16, w/ AAA% chart. Lundqvist, Mason and Crawford should all get Vezina consideration. pic.twitter.com/EMShaQ2mmX— Nick Mercadante (@NMercad) April 11, 2016
He faces plenty of shots (blue) at even strength but still puts up strong numbers. Conversely, Niemi and Kari don't face as may shots (red), yet post worse numbers. The silver lining is that Dubnyk's save percentage on the Penalty Kill is well below average at 84.4, as Hockey Wilderness pointed out yesterday in Marcus' Q & A.
Edge Minnesota Monday through Sunday until Midnight.
Most Dangerous Trios
Per Corsica Hockey, the most dangerous trios between both teams with at least 50 minutes of ice time together at even strength are:
1. Benn - Seguin - Spezza 62.3 Percent
2. Benn - Seguin - Eaves 59.4 Percent
3. Nino - Granlund - Pominville 59.3 Percent
4. Benn - Seguin - Sharp 57.6 Percent
5. Faksa - Fiddler - Sceviour 57.5 Percent
6. Nino - Koivu - Zucker 57.2 Percent
Basically, the Wild's best trios at even strength are healthy, so as long as the Wild coaching staff are working them overtime, they'll be a handful.
Minnesota has a decent team. They're probably not even the worst team in the playoffs, even with their injuries. With strong goaltending, and a quality blueline (and one that could only get better with their Big 10 college hotshot Mike Reilly, who has 7 points in 29 games), they have the ability to phase shift from zone to zone with efficiency. Dallas is built from front to back, meaning styles make fights. Dallas can be a little erratic in the transition because their forwards do all the transition work (have I mentioned we need Honka to help this part of Dallas' game before?). It's nothing but outlet passes, board rims, and the occasional Klingberg hotness. Still, they're much more well rounded than the media gives them credit for. They are, however, as dangerous as the media believes their forwards to be. It won't be a slaughter but it will be bloody.
Dallas Stars in 5. Game winning goals by Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, and Jamie Benn.