The fake hockey is almost done. It’s still hockey, mind, but preseason feels kind of like a microwaved pizza. It’s not bad, as it is still definitely pizza, but you only have it because it reminds you of its better form.
That said, it’s been a not wholly unenjoyable bit of warmed-up warmup hockey. Dallas has gone 3-2 in the preseason to my memory, which means something to someone somewhere, presumably.
Ken Hitchcock continued his trend of modifying earlier statements when he stated that this game would not be a replicate of the opening night roster after all. Why? We can only guess, but I’d wager that some of it has to do with bumps and bruises. The rest could well involve some further auditioning, but who’s to say, really? Well, Mark is to say, as usual:
Among those not playing in tomorrow's preseason finale: Benn, Seguin, Radulov, Klingberg, Janmark. HItch wants to look at other players.— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) September 29, 2017
Morning skate will give us a more solid look at lines, but you can bet that you’ll see Spezza getting minutes. Recent practices have lineups in configurations something like this, according to the beat writers:
Remi Elie - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie
Antoine Roussel - Martin Hanzal - Devin Shore
Gemel Smith - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Jason Dickinson - Roope Hintz - Adam Cracknell
It’s noteworthy to me that Cracknell hasn’t seemed to have turned many heads this camp. After last season, I wouldn’t have thought that he’d have needed to, but it will be interesting to see if his stellar campaign ends up more of a memory than a propulsion system for his lineup fortunes. Good guy, good player. So I guess this is yet another one of those pesky Good Problems to Have.
Martin Hanzal might fall in that same category, as he will finally be displaying his role in the Stars’ glut of centers during game action.
It’s also good to see Roussel apparently good to go after taking a puck in practice the other day.
The defense could be something like this:
Esa Lindell - Julius Honka
Marc Methot - Jamie Oleksiak
Dan Hamhuis - Stephen Johns
Don’t be shocked if you see a defense similar to this on opening night, but with Klingberg in for Honka. (I know, I know.)
The Wild, meanwhile, have also played some preseason games. Their results are similarly illuminating of their team’s prospects, which is to say that it’s preseason and the points don’t matter. Unless you’re one of the guys making his last case for the NHL roster before the final round of cuts, of course.
The Wild are popularly thought to be in the top echelon of the Central Division, and this might be the closest thing to “real” rosters the two teams will have matched up with this preseason.
The top nine of the Wild might look something like this, with Zach Parise still up on blocks for a little while longer:
Foligno-Joel Eriksson Ek-Coyle
4th line: Like, Daniel Winnik or something. I don’t know.
Their defense will also feature some defenders, all of whom were not drafted by Vegas over the summer (that honor went to Erik Haula). Spurgeon, Brodin, Dumba and Ryan Suter are all on the team. Again, we’ll have to wait and see who plays for sure.
Devan Dubnyk is one of their goalies. Alex Stalock is the other (he’s the one Dallas faced earlier this preseason).
As far as tactics go, I thought this comment from Bruce Boudreau was relatively interesting.
You've talked through camp about some structural changes you have made in the defensive zone. In layman's terms, what were you trying to accomplish last year and how have you changed it? Why did you feel a change was needed?
BB: The biggest thing is the structure of our neutral zone. We've got great mobility on the back end and we want to use that. We don't want to sag back and let an opponent get the puck deep, because the big teams will keep pressuring and use their size to wear us down. We may not have a ton of size, but we have the mobility. If we can stop an opponent before they get across the blue line and force turnovers, I think we'll be so much better. In training camp, we've tried it and it's getting better every day. For an opponent, it's very difficult to get through it when you do it right. The less we can play in our zone and the more our goalies can handle the puck in a proper way and get us out of trouble, we won't allow many shots. We don't want opponents coming through our zone in droves of three. That's what we're trying to avoid.
So, that’s something to look for.
Something else? Well, the Stars have the 3rd-highest CF% (shot differential) in the preaseason. The Wild have the 3rd-worst. It is the preseason and this means nothing, unless it totally means something.
It’s a road game, so don’t show up to the AAC unless you just enjoy hanging out there, which is totally fine.
The Stars don’t have plans to broadcast this one in video or audio, but stay tuned for any news about Minnesota broadcast plans, particularly on their flagship radio station, which you can check out here.