“Let’s forget the baggages of the past and make a new beginning.” ~ Shehbaz Sharif
It’s a new day, Stars fans.
Gone are the Lindy Ruff days. Days in which the team was a high-octane offense but just as likely to lose a game 7-6 any given night.
Gone are the Ken Hitchcock days. Days in which the structure and defense was there but the offense was stifled to the point of stand-still any given night.
Here are the Jim Montgomery days. Days that have been marked so far by smiles, pace, aggressive play with and without the puck, trust, communication, and enthusiasm.
It’s fun to be a Dallas Stars fan these days. A head coach with a clear plan, with a roster that has more pieces that fit the style he wants to implement, and a team that appears to be on the same page from top to bottom has given fans plenty to be optimistic about as the season dawns today.
Of course there are question marks still to be answered and real concerns that the team can take the next step forward. But today we choose to embrace the enthusiastic, optimistic outlook that’s been built this offseason and throughout the preseason.
Mostly, we’re excited that Stars hockey will be fun to watch again this season. It’s likely going to mean more heartburn-inducing games than last season. But that’s how we know we’re living Stars hockey, right? The antacid is on standby. Let’s do this.
Based on the last practice before the home opener, the Stars’ lineup is likely to look like this:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Blake Comeau
Devin Shore - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Jason Dickinson - Roope Hintz - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Marc Methot - Julius Honka
Ben Bishop will start in net.
Valeri Nichushkin (lower body) is day to day. Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches) and Martin Hanzal (spinal fusion) open the season on injured reserve.
It’s likely that newly acquired Connor Carrick needs a few more days of practice after arriving in Dallas on Tuesday in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Montgomery’s system is new to everyone, but the rest of the blueliners have had more time to acclimate to it than Carrick. If he does enter the lineup tonight, expect him to take Polak’s place and for the bottom two pairings to be mixed up from this version. We’ll keep you posted based on morning skate if anything changes in that regard.
The Coyotes appear to be on the upswing. After many seasons of finishing at or near the bottom of the league’s standings, they’ve acquired a nice core of young players to build around. General manager John Chakya hasn’t been afraid to acquire pieces since taking over the job two years ago.
This summer, the Coyotes traded center Max Domi to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for center Alex Galchenyuk. They added Laurent Dauphin in free agency. Extensions for Kevin Connauton, Antti Raanta, and Christian Dvorak were negotiated and signed.
But the biggest move this summer the Coyotes made was the signing of Oliver Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year contract extension, and then his eventual appointment as team captain. Many fans and some media speculated that Ekman-Larsson would hit free agency and go to a team that was closer to competing for the Stanley Cup. By signing him to a max extension, OEL signaled not only to the Coyotes but the rest of the league that he believes this team is ready to compete now.
They very well could be, with young players such as Clayton Keller coming off a Calder-worthy rookie season last year and the emergence of young puck-moving blueliner in Jakob Chychrun. The pieces appear to be assembling to move the team in the right direction, and in a seemingly wide-open Pacific Division, it’s possible that Arizona could take a step forward in their rebuild and sneak into the playoffs this season.
If they can get all those pieces in the lineup, that is.
Arizona has been hit with some tough injuries to start the season. Chychrun is still making his way back after having surgery for an unspecified knee injury in early April. Christian Dvorak has the dreaded “lower-body injury” and missed the majority of the Coyotes’ training camp and preseason. Newly acquired Galchenyuk is week-to-week with a lower-body injury as well, and Josh Archibald also jumped aboard the LBI train in the preseason.
All four will begin the season on the injured reserve.
The Coyotes have several players that can play center (Vinnie Hinostroza, Laurent Dauphin, Nick Cousins) so the losses of Dvorak and Galchenyuk are not as hard to recover from. The real weakness of this team is on their blueline, where they were thin in quality players before the loss of Chychrun for the season opener.
If they’re going to keep their heads above water, Antti Raanta is going to have to continue to improve as the team’s starter. He’s done a lot this off-season to ensure he’s ready to go (and hopefully prevent any injuries from derailing him this season): worked on his conditioning, strength, and flexibility, and improved his nutrition. Raanta will be a key player in this team’s start while they await reinforcements.
Their lineup for tonight’s game should look similar to the lines at their last practice, something like this:
Brendan Perlini - Clayton Keller - Vinnie Hinostroza
Richard Panik - Derek Stepan - Christian Fischer
Lawson Crouse - Dylan Strome - Laurent Dauphin
Michael Grabner - Brad Richardson - Nick Cousins
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Jason Demers
Alex Goligoski - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Kevin Connauton - Jordan Oesterle
Antti Raanta will get the start in net with Darcy Keumper on backup duty.
If You’re Attending Tonight, Some Things To Note!
Here’s a few things to keep in mind for tonight’s season opener:
1) The Victory Green Carpet opens at 3 PM. Players and team reps will start arriving at 4 PM.
2) George Strait will drop the ceremonial first puck tonight. The King of Country in the house!
3) Don’t forget to download the Dallas Stars Light Show from your app store on your cellular device. You’ll be part of the opening entertainment! Also make sure that phone is charged before you get to the arena.
4) Puck drop is at 7:30 PM, but the pregame introductions of the team and hype videos and such generally start a little earlier on opening night. Good rule of thumb to ensure you don’t miss anything is to be at your seat around 7:10-7:15 PM.
For those unable to attend in person, you can catch the Stars vs Coyotes here:
TV: Fox Sports Southwest / Fox Go app if you’re not home tonight (blackouts apply)
Radio: 1310 AM / 96.7 FM The Ticket
Online Radio Stream: theticket.com