In two games against the St. Louis Blues and one against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Dallas Stars garnered only two points in those three games, against teams chasing to get into the Wild Card picture.
Sometimes teams lose games that they should win, but the disheartening part of the last two losses has been the sheer tedium of it all. Even to the casual observer, the Stars seemed to be going through the motions — 50/50 battles were lost, tape-to-tape passes either missed or bounced off sticks. Neither game was a shutout, but the single goals in each seemed like afterthoughts in an affair already concluded.
On that high note, enter the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sporting a 35-9-2 record, including 8-2-0 in their last 10, they have a goal differential that is almost half the total number of the Stars’ goals this season.
This portends poorly.
Meanwhile, in the soap opera that is the Dallas Stars, there have been some cast changes. Devin Shore took his everlasting smile to Orange County yesterday to join the Anaheim Ducks, where he’ll try to bring a ray of sunshine to a team in the midst of a franchise record 11-game losing streak.
In return, the Stars picked up Andrew Cogliano, who has been struggling to put up points on a shutdown line centered by Ryan Kesler. Cogliano can play all forward positions, and he brings speed, tenacity, and a well-earned reputation as a player who shows up every day ready to work.
There are a few reasons to hold out hope for the Stars. The Lightning are coming in on their third game in four nights, and after losing 5-1 to the New York Islanders on Sunday. In addition, defensive stalwart Victor Hedman left the Islanders game with an upper body injury and is day-to-day.
In only one of their nine regulation losses have the Lightning scored more than two goals. Tampa Bay tends to shoot in quantity, which is good for their Corsi, but a structured defense can limit their high danger scoring chances. That may not be the most entertaining brand of hockey, but it is one at which the Stars have shown some ability.
Offensively, it’s hard to know where to start with the Lightning. They run two solid scoring lines, each of which has a player with at least 20 goals to his name. Brayden Point leads in goals with 29, but Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov also have more than 20.
Tampa Bays power play is top in the league at just under 30%, plus their penalty kill is top ten. Their 12.2 shooting percentage tops the league. Teams that have pulled out wins have kept the game to the outside and have had goaltenders who didn’t give up anything easy.
Defensively, the Lightning have three solid pairs. All defenders average over 16 minutes of ice time per game. It is a veteran group, with three starters over the age of 30. Mikhail Sergachev is the outlier. He’s not finding the back of the net like he did last year, but his 17 points (one goal, 16 assist) are still pretty decent for a 20-year-old getting 16 minutes per game.
Amazingly, goaltending is the one area where Tampa Bay is notably down. Mind you, Andrei Vasilevskiy was a Vezina finalist last year, so he has set a pretty high standard. Overall, however, his performance has been unexpectedly average.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lineup
(update - Victor Hedman will play tonight for the Lightning)
Nikita Kucherov - Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point
Yanni Gourde - Steven Stamkos - Ondrej Palat
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller
Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi
Dallas Star Lineup
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Andrew Cogliano - Jason Spezza - Erik Condra
Blake Comeau - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Mattias Janmark - Roope Hintz - Valeri Nichushkin
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Julius Honka - Taylor Fedun
Keys to the Game
- For whatever reason, the Dallas Stars have played up to the competition this year. They’re playing the top team in the league, so it’s time to play up to the competition.
- Average goaltending has beaten the Lightning once this year. Anton Khudobin needs to be on his game.
- Tampa Bay will get their shots. Keep them to the outside, clear rebounds and counter-attack with pace. The Stars can lose the Corsi battle, but they need to finish their high danger scoring chances.
Did you know? Andrew Cogliano has done fabulous work with the animal shelters in Orange County with his #CogsForDogs. Great news for our furry friends in the Metroplex needing adoption.