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Central Division Tilt Gives Stars Big Test Early In Season

The Stars will get the chance to see how they stack up against one of the best in the conference.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Jim Montgomery era started off with a 3-0 shutout on opening night when the Dallas Stars took on the Arizona Coyotes on home ice.

Though, Montgomery was quick not to take any credit. “First of all, players win games. I don’t know why coaches have records, you know? And I’m honest with that. I really think players win championships and I’ve always believed that coaches help give them opportunities to do that. The win, I was immediately starting to think of what we could work on and for us to keep getting better.”

Overall, the Stars did okay for their first game in Montgomery’s system. It wasn’t a totally dominant performance (outside of 96 seconds where three goals were scored) and they took their foot off the gas more than they should have after taking a commanding lead. They’ll need to improve on that against a great team like the Winnipeg Jets, because the Jets take advantage of any moments of comfort — and make the opponent pay on the scoreboard.

Dallas Stars

With the win Thursday on opening night, head coach Jim Montgomery said at practice on Friday that the team would likely roll with the same lineup as the last game. It’s possible that Valeri Nichushkin could draw in after missing Thursday’s game due to a minor lingering injury. We’ll update after morning skate if that is the case.

Jamie BennTyler SeguinAlexander Radulov
Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaBlake Comeau
Devin ShoreRadek FaksaTyler Pitlick
Jason DickinsonRoope HintzBrett Ritchie

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Marc MethotMiro Heiskanen
Connor CarrickRoman Polak

Ben Bishop is expected to start tonight.

Winnipeg Jets

The offseason for the Jets was fairly quiet. After all, when you go to the Western Conference final, there’s probably not a lot that needs to be tweaked in the lineup. Winnipeg has good depth at most positions and finally seem to have a trusted, consistent starting goaltender between the pipes.

In their only real move over the summer, the Jets did re-sign captain Blake Wheeler to a new five year deal with an annual cap hit of $5.2 million. The new contract will kick in next season when Wheeler turns 33. He may be worth the cap hit the first couple of years of that, but the back end of the contract may become a bit of an albatross.

What the move signals, though, is that the Jets believe their window is now. After seeing them dominate last season, there’s no reason to believe that the window isn’t now for the Winnipeg team. That’s why this matchup tonight so early in the season provides Dallas with a way to measure themselves fairly quickly — and regardless of outcome, both sides are likely to learn a lot about themselves and where they stand in the division tonight.

This is the lineup the Jets used in their 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. It’s not likely they’ll make many changes from this:

Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault-Bryan Little-Patrik Laine
Andrew Copp-Adam Lowry-Brandon Tanev
Kristian Vesalainen-Jack Roslovic-Nikolaj Ehlers

Josh Morrissey-Jacob Trouba
Ben Chiarot-Dustin Byfuglien
Joe Morrow-Tyler Myers

Connor Hellebuyck is the assumed starter with Laurent Brossoit as the backup.

Two points is worth just as much tonight as it is later in the season, especially when you can take them away from a division mate. Last season, Dallas went 12-14-0 against Central opponents. If they’re looking for a way to ensure a spot in the postseason, taking two points off a divisional opponent is a good way to build towards that goal.

It’s likely going to be a heavy contest as Winnipeg plays hard and physical. It’s the first big test of head coach Jim Montgomery’s new system — and how well he can adjust if the Stars are unable to impose their will and puck possession style onto the game.