Hi Derek, I learned about parallax this week. How are you?
I also learned, Monday night, that the Dallas Stars will face St. Louis in the second round. Those same pesky Blues who went 4-1 against Dallas during the regular season. Yikes. I mean yes, technically, we've known it would either be St. Louis or Chicago since the playoffs started thanks to the weird locked NHL playoff bracket, but there's something about actually knowing that makes it feel more real.
Speaking of real, the Stars are in the second round. That's a thing that's happening in the real world. We can enjoy it, right? The same way we enjoyed our Western Conference-winning Stars all season. Oh, wait. Did we really enjoy it? Really?
In case you can't tell, there's a theme developing here.
The Stars are in the second round and I can't, for the life of me, make heads or tails of the situation. They're a one seed. Good. They've got this weird stink about them; it's too soon, no defense, suspect goaltending. Bad.
So help me out, do the St. Louis Blues have any reason to be afraid of the Dallas Stars?
Wes: Is it crazy if I say yes? I keep reading about how David Backes and a superior defense are going to give Jamie Benn fits. Just like they gave Patrick Kane (7 pts), Artemi Panarin (7 pts), and Jonathan Toews (6 pts) fits? Am I missing something?
You'll also pardon me for not being overly concerned by the non-Vladimir Tarasenko parts of the St. Louis offense. Chicago has three functional defensemen and the Blues still had to fight for every goal. Yeah, he'll be an issue, but who else? St. Louis is not a team built to test Dallas.
Derek: Depending entirely on how you want to look at it, there are a certainly number of ways that the Stars could really give the Blues heaps of trouble, and vice versa.
As someone that lives in Calgary and spent years watching the big, tough, truculent Flames fail to disrupt teams that were often literally skating circles around them, I'm not sold on the notion that big teams are the be-all, end-all.
Now, the Blues certainly aren't the Calgary Jarome Iginlas-Against-The-World, but at the same time, when was the last time that St. Louis played a team as fast as the Stars are? You can't hit what you can't catch, and that could be a recurring theme this series.
However, the Stars will need to be completely on top of everything. This Blues team is experienced, has been hot for weeks and is incredibly fired up to exorcise their playoff demons. The Stars aren't going to open up a 4-0 can on them and have the luxury of playing Colorado Avalanche hockey for 20 minutes and still escape with a win. If they get sloppy with the puck the Blues will make them pay dearly.
Wes: You hit it on the head. The composure and intelligence of the Stars' high-end players will decide this series. If they try to match St. Louis in the trenches, they'll get rolled. However, the Blues' predilection for violence is going to create opportunities. A return to form for the power play could be critical, and in the name of all things Zubov, no more gimme goals!
Two more questions, while I have your attention:
Who gets the nod in net for the Stars?
Derek: Can I pick "all of the above?"
Judging by how both goalies played against the Minnesota Wild, Kari Lehtonen (who was better) should at least start Game 1. But, unless Zeus himself descends from Mount Olympus, takes control of Lehtonen's body and starts stopping pucks with lightning bolts (is there a rule against that in the CBA?), I feel like the Stars need to give Niemi a start at some point.
I know the conventional wisdom is to only roll one goalie through the playoffs but, well, when have the 2015-16 Stars done anything conventional? They've gotten to this point by keeping both goalies fresh so it makes sense to not risk burning out one of them now.
Wes: I love the point you're making, but would actually pivot slightly. Conventional wisdom for the Stars is playing goalie shuffle. Just like they shuffle Spezza and Benn together from time to time. For whatever reason, this team benefits from jolts and adjustments. Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal. In the first round the Stars won twice, got flat, and then won the series. It might drive fans nuts, but it seems like Niemi and Lehtonen are okay with the situation. Weird.
And how much Tyler Seguin are we going to see?
Derek: I'm hoping for at least some, even if he's not 100%.
Look, I recognize that rushing a player back from an injury is always risky business. The Stars need Seguin to be at his best for potential Rounds 3 and 4 and can't have him re-aggravate whatever injury has kept him out the past few games.
But...the Stars still need Seguin at his best for Rounds 3 and 4, you know? Getting back to 100% health is one thing, but when that point comes how much rust is he going to have on his normally shiny and chrome game? The sooner the Stars can get him some sheltered ice time the better, even if there still exists a risk (not a high one, of course) of injury.
Wes: A good start buys him time, but I agree. At some point the Stars are going to need Seguin to make a difference. Hopefully, another full week of rest means he plays regularly and well. If that's not going to be possible (the Stars are being predictably cagey on his current malady), then it might come down to coaching. Can Lindy Ruff find a way to selectively deploy 70% of Tyler Seguin? Maybe as a power play specialist, on a wing, or with ridiculously tilted zone starts? For his part, can Seguin get to a point of effectiveness?
Whatever the answers, Round 2 is going to be a barn-burner.