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Dallas Stars host Habs in New Years Eve tilt

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Shea Weber is back, but Cary Price is out for Montreal. High scoring games have been the norm for the Canadiens.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Montreal Canadiens
Celebrate the New Year with Stars goals against the Canadians.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The “room” for a hockey team is a mysterious thing. To the outsider, a veteran who’s lost a step draws in to the lineup on a regular basis, but he’s a “glue guy” so he keeps on drawing in. In my life, I’ve been in several, in sports and in business, and each one has had it’s own dynamic.

When faced by an attack from outside, strong teams pull together. When your leaders are attacked, especially when they’re effective leaders, you feel personally responsible to have their back.

The dynamic on the Stars is a bit unusual. The marquee name, Tyler Seguin, doesn’t wear the “C”. Instead it’s soft spoken Jamie Benn. But if you watch, the team follows Benn. When he goes “beast mode”, its not necessarily that he’s putting the team on his back, its that bootstraps the team up a notch.

On Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings, the “glue guys” showed that they had their leaders backs. 32, 32, 27, 35 - those are the ages of the goal scorers against Detroit. In a game against a pretty bad Red Wings team, Benn and Seguin were decent, but the rest of the leadership group took care of business. It’s a bit of a rarity, but the Stars comfortably beat a team that they should comfortably beat.

You learn something about your team when they face adversity. Maybe this team looks around and sees that they’ve played 12 defenders this year and still kept themselves in the playoff hunt. They’ve sacrificed their offense to protect their defense. They’ve tried to implement a new system without some of the key cogs that should make it work.

Maybe this team uses a late year opportunity to look into the room and realize that they could be a good team if they use the defensive posture that they’ve developed and utilize it as a springboard to a dynamic offense.

Montreal comes into Dallas for New Years Eve at the end of a six game road trip that has taken them from the west coast to the east coast and now to the middle. They’ve managed a 3-2-0 record over that span and 6-4-0 over their last ten.

The Phillip Danault line plays a two way game, so when possible expect Claude Julien to have them facing the Stars top line. The line with young Finns Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen should see a decent number of offensive zone starts.

Montreal plays a high event game. Dallas needs to avoid getting in a track meet with the Canadians.

The big news out of Montreal since the Stars last played the Canadiens in late October is the return of Shea Weber to the blue line. More recently, it is a lower body injury to Cary Price that has brought Antti Niemi back into the starter role.

Weber appears to have come back in form. He still pulls in a solid 25 plus minutes a game and in 15 games since his return, he has five goals and five assists. On the second pair, Jeff Petry is second on the team with 21 assists. Jordie Benn has been logging minutes in the third pairing.

In his 10 starts this year, Antti Niemi has a reasonable 5-4-1 record, but the underlying .870 save percentage and 4.22 goals against average should remind Stars fans why they are still paying him $1.5 million buyout money for the year.

Antti Niemi has given up 42 goals vs. 29 expected goals this year.

Montreal Canadians lineup

From Saturday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning:

Tomas Tatar - Phillip Danault - Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin - Max Domi - Paul Byron
Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Andrew Shaw - Artturi Lehkonen
Kenny Agostino - Michael Chaput - Matthew Peca

Victor Mete - Shea Weber
Mike Reilly - Jeff Petry
Jordie Benn - Brett Kulak

Antti Niemi

Dallas Stars lineup

Saturday night saw quite a bit of line shuffling, but my expectation before morning skate.

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

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Connor Carrick - Julius Honka

Ben Bishop

Keys to the Game

Ben Bishop had one of his better games on October 30 against Montreal. The Canadiens were able to find time and space in the crease, but Dallas took an early second period lead with a back door power play goal from Lindell and never looked back. Average Ben Bishop beats average Antti Niemi.

Montreal plays high event hockey. Dallas needs to maintain their structure and avoid the “pond hockey” that they fell into against the Islanders. The Stars will get their opportunities against an aggressive Montreal team, but they need to be patient and not force the action, especially through the neutral zone.

Party time at the American Airlines Center. It’s New Years Eve and the Stars have been known to post big numbers in these end of the year games. The crowd brings the energy and the Canadiens are at the end of an extended road trip and playing a third game in four nights. Make a tired Montreal team happy with a 3-3-0 road trip.

Did you know? Monday night’s match-up features the 2017 and 2018 third overall draft picks in Finns Miro Heiskanen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Finns feature prominently, and between the two teams, you could feature a starting lineup of:

Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Roope Hintz - Artturi Lehkonen
Esa Lindell - Miro Heiskanen
Antti Niemi

Julius Honka off the bench and Joel Armia on injured reserve.