Apparently, getting John Klingberg back was not a magic potion, bringing immediate success for the Dallas Stars. First periods still exist, pipes can still be hit, and if you give time and space to skilled opponents, they’ll still pot the opportunities in the back of the net.
The collective sigh that was Thursday night’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks popped multiple balloons. Klingberg’s return did not mean that the rest of the blue line could stop overachieving—quite the opposite, in fact. The ice at American Airlines Center is not covered with pixie dust that makes visitors forget how to hockey. The Central is still the Central, and for reasons unknown, the Stars lose when they play their divisional rivals.
There was talk about a front-loaded Eastern Conference/Pacific Division schedule giving the Stars time to gel. Over 40 percent of the season is now in the books, and Dallas is on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
So the story changes. Now, the Stars now have the opportunity of head-to-head Central match-ups. However, there is no opportunity if you can not, will not win these games. Three of a possible twelve points while giving up ten relegates you to spring golf.
Which brings us to Saturday evening’s game against the Minnesota Wild. The Wild come in at 3-7-0 in their last 10, including three losses in a row and two straight at home. Facing a cold team, however, didn’t help the Stars against Chicago.
The big news out of Minnesota is an upper body injury to Matt Dumba that is expected to keep him out for several months. That brings on concerns that should be familiar to Stars fans, in the form of Greg Pateryn on the right side of the second D pair. Nate Prosser draws in for only the fifth time this year on the third pair. Even with Dumba out, Minnesota sports a pretty impressive blue line.
Offensively, the Wild don’t overwhelm anybody with a single line. Instead, they roll two solid offensive lines and a productive third line, all of which play responsible defense and can can hurt you in the offensive zone. Bruce Boudreau tends to set his lines for the game and then let it play out, however with two goals in their last three games, the Wild are looking for any spark to get them going. These are the lines from Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
Minnesota Wild lineup
Jason Zucker - Eric Staal - Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Nino Niederreiter
Jordan Greenway - Charlie Coyle - Luke Kunin
Marcus Foligno - Joel Eriksson Ek - Eric Fehr
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Greg Pateryn
Nick Seeler - Nate Prosser
Expect Devan Dubnyk in goal.
Dallas Stars lineup
The Stars lineup will be changed from Thursday night, however, the specifics are still up in the air. What we do know is that Martin Hanzal will not be making the trip and that Jason Spezza and Brett Ritchie will both draw back in. What we don’t know is how the lines will look once they’ve been through Jim Montgomery’s blender. My best guess.
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Denis Gurianov
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Alexander Radulov
Valeri Nichushkin - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Blake Comeau - Jason Dickinson - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Taylor Fedun
Gavin Bayreuther - Roman Polak
Deep down, I’d really like to swap Janmark and Dickinson, since I think that it would work, but perhaps as part of an in-game reshuffle. Likewise, Julius Honka played well prior to Klingberg’s return, but if he draws back in, I’d expect it to be on Sunday against the Islanders.
Keys to the Game
The short term relief of getting back John Klingberg is over. The Stars need to push pace, but not at the expense of giving up the center of the ice or over-aggressively losing gap control.
On the other hand, losing Dumba changes the dynamics of the Wild defense. With Pateryn on the second pair and Prosser drawing in, Minnesota will be giving heavy minutes to Suter and Spurgeon. The Stars need to take advantage of the time when that first pair is off the ice.
Ben Bishop and Devan Dubnyk were both spectacular in net for the first Stars/Wild matchup in October. A sloppy game by either trumps the rest of play.
Anecdotally, the Stars forwards seem to play better when they hit, or maybe they hit when they play better. Speed with a physical edge (not over the edge, #25) could be this team’s identity.
Did you know? 64 and sunny in Dallas > 34 with snow flurries in Minneapolis, even if you are Scandinavian.