A few times a year, I have to reread The Ten Laws of Hockey Analytics just to remind myself that managing a hockey season is a lot like herding cats. You can do it, but don’t expect to get from point A to point Z in a straight line.
Case in point: Money Puck.com’s expected goal model had the Washington Capitals beating Dallas 2.72 to 2.36, and then the Stars beating the Winnipeg Jets 2.63 to 2.47. Now, maybe you want to dispute the details of the model, and in the end it’s the goals that count, but what I see here is a team that put itself in a position to win against two high caliber playoff teams.
The frustrating and inexplicable part of this for Dallas this season is how their scoring chances get compacted into the second period and how often they need their goaltender to bail them out in the third. Anton Khudobin did it against the Capitals, but Ben Bishop couldn’t against the Jets.
Halfway through the 2018-19 season, what we are going to get from the Dallas Stars has been firmly established. Absent a blockbuster trade or some significant improvements based on a refortified defensive corps, the team is average, mediocre, meh, pick your term.
Most models have them on the good side of the playoff race, so it’s going to be difficult for the team to justify blowing everything up. Like it or not, the high-flying Lindy Ruff Stars have morphed into the Minnesota Wild.
On that depressing note, Dallas plays the St. Louis Blues tonight. The Blues are one point off of last place in the Western Conference, but have several games in hand. The issue for St. Louis is that they’ve played 60% of their games at home, with a record of 10-12-2.
The Blues have a litany of problems. They are ranked bottom five in league scoring, shots, goaltending, and to top it off, PDO. Much like last year’s Stars, the Blues have gone from winning the offseason to losing the regular season. Netminding probably reflects the heart of the problem.
Over 33 games, goaltender Jake Allen sports a 14-13-4 record, with a goals against average north of three and a save percentage well south of expectation.
St. Louis only has three players who have double digits in goals. Offseason acquisition Ryan O’Reilly leads the team with 16 to pair with linemate David Perron’s 12. Vladimir Tarasenko rounds out the trio at 12 goals, with six of those coming via the power play. Oskar Sundqvist has been a bit of an offensive surprise on the fourth line.
The St. Louis blue line is predictably solid, but with the exception of Colton Parayko, they don’t offer much offense. Defensively, expect tight checking, hitting, and a battle for high danger scoring areas.
The previous two matchups from last year included a fight, and with the Blues coming in after a 3-0 shutout of the Philadelphia Grittys, they should be primed for a physical affair.
St. Louis Lineup
The Blues lineup likely gets a bit ruffled, with Alexander Steen leaving last nights game in the first period with an upper body injury. St. Louis has gone with seven defenders in two of their last three - both victories.
Jaden Schwartz - Brayden Schenn - Robert Thomas
Robby Fabbri - Ryan O’Reilly - David Perron
Zach Sanford - Tyler Bozak - Vladimir Tarasenko
Ivan Barbashev - Oskar Sundqvist
Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester - Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson - Robert Bortuzzo
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Valeri Nichushkin - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Devin Shore - Jason Spezza - Erik Condra
Mattias Janmark - Roope Hintz - Blake Comeau
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Connor Carrick - Taylor Fedun
Keys to the Game
- Jamie Benn was hard to find in his first game back after missing the Capitals game. The captain, and the first line in general, need to produce at 5-on-5.
- I’m sure that this isn’t an official statistic, but underperforming goaltenders seem to find their mojo against the Stars. Maybe it’s bad first periods that bring on an unexpected focus, but whatever the reason, we’ve already witnessed a Antti Niemi win and we don’t need to see the same from Jake Allen.
- The Blues will make it difficult to set up in the crease. The Stars can not settle into a game along the boards.
Did you know? Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington’s shutout of the Flyers last night was in his first NHL start. Rich Parent is the only other Blues goalie to accomplish that, although Chris Osgood did record a shutout in his first start for St. Louis.