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Dallas Stars Fighting for Identity Against Nashville

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Returning from a needed three-day break, the Stars renew their rivalry with the Predators in Nashville tonight.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators
Jason Spezza is welcomed back to Nashville in characteristic Predator style
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Is the following a quote from GM Jim Nill after speaking to Artemi Panarin?

“When you talk about winning and losing, I know you want to go to a team to win a Cup, but we’re as committed as anybody. Who knows, maybe we’re closer than anybody thinks.”

Nope. That’s Nashville Predators’ GM David Poile speaking in 2014 about Jason Spezza.

Of course, later that fall, Spezza signed a four-year, $30 million dollar contract with the Dallas Stars. As that contract nears its end, Spezza appears content with his decision. Based strictly on which team was closer to a Stanley Cup, Nashville was, in hindsight, the choice. This year, Nashville again seems a playoff lock, while Dallas wobbles on the edge of Wild Card oblivion.

Which leads us to tonight’s match-up between the Stars and the Predators. This will be the second of five games in the season series, and it finds both teams with major roster changes since the last meeting on November 10.

When he drew into that game, Julius Honka was one of the Stars’ grizzled veterans, trailing only Esa Lindell in NHL games played. It was the first full game after the injury to John Klingberg, and even when Roman Josi tied it up in the last minute and Mattias Ekholm won it in overtime, it almost seemed like a moral victory.

Nashville enters Thursday night’s game mired in a four-game losing streak and a record of 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. The Predators; slide coincides with a spate of injuries, mostly to their forward corps. Missing are Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Colton Sissons on offense, and P.K. Subban remains out on the blue line.

In spite of injuries, Nashville remains well above average in xG differential

With the Stars having trouble finding the back of the net, Nashville will present some challenges. The Predators sport a league-leading 95 goals allowed and a penalty kill that is just outside the top 10.

With Forsberg’s injury, Craig Smith is the only Predator with double digits in goals. They do spread the offense out a bit, with 12 players having scored six or more goals. In addition to that, Nashville leads the league in opponent penalties taken, so even with a pedestrian power play, they do get on the job on a regular basis.

In goal, Pekka Rinne is having another solid year, with a league leading 2.15 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. Over his career, Rinne has a 15-9-2 record against the Stars.

Nashville Predators Lineup

Victor Arvidsson and P.K. Subban are possible tonight, but if there are no last minute changes.

Kevin Fiala - Nick Bonino - Ryan Hartman
Rocco Grimaldi - Ryan Johansen - Craig Smith
Kyle Turris - Calle Jarnkrok - Miikka Salomaki
Austin Watson - Frederick Gaudreau - Zac Rinaldo

Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - Dan Hamhuis
Matt Irwin - Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne

Dallas Stars Lineup

No Jason Dickinson or Martin Hanzal at morning skate.

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Spezza - Denis Gurianov
Blake Comeau - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Mattias Janmark - Devin Shore - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Gavin Bayreuther - Taylor Fedun

Anton Khudobin

Keys to the Game

In their last five games, the Stars have averaged four minor penalties per match. That is seven more minor penalties than they have drawn, and includes a game with Chicago where the referees swallowed their whistles. Against a team that thrives on drawing penalties, the Stars need to stay out of the box.

In the first match-up this year, the goals came early and often against Juusi Saros. The Stars went up early and then failed to hold on. This time around, expect a tight checking physical game.

Neither team shoots at a high rate, nor do they surrender many shots

John Klingberg has played 18 games against the Predators, yet he has no goals to show for it. Klingberg needs to use his puck skill to drive the offense against a stingy Nashville defense.

Did you know? Since joining the Stars in 2014, Spezza has played 18 games against the Predators, going 10-6-16 and shooting just under 25%.