After months of waiting, meaningful hockey returns to the Metroplex when the Dallas Stars host the Boston Bruins tonight. In a matchup against the team last seen in a handshake line with the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, Stars fans bring a renewed hope for a team that, if hockey media is to be believed, could make its own run at the Stanley Cup this season.
Over the last month, coverage of the Stars has been focused on prospects. Starting with the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, the progress of first-round draft pick Thomas Harley jumped to front and center. Within the forward group, Joel Kiviranta started as a dark horse to make the team, followed by several other names of the day — all of whom eventually ended up with the Texas Stars. Left standing is Denis Gurianov, making the team primarily because nobody else stole the last NHL slot from him.
With the season starting, the questions about Dallas change significantly. Distractions regarding prospects and borderline NHL players return to the background, leaving the discussion to be more about what actually changed with the team. Sure, Mats Zuccarello helped show that adding a viable second scoring line could turn the Stars into a more dangerous group than what had been a one-dimensional defensive team. Does Joe Pavelski add that same scoring touch that will make Dallas a true two-line team?
On defense, Andrej Sekera brings a potential skilled partner for Miro Heiskanen, but what happens with a third pair of Jamie Oleksiak and Roman Polak when they play 12-plus minutes a night together? Head coach Jim Montgomery has indicated that pairings are likely to change based on the situation on the ice, so we could see a bit more of the Heiskanen/Polak pairing than initially expected.
Finally, is there any way that Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin can repeat their stellar numbers from last season?
For all of the motion during the offseason, this is a Dallas Stars team that looks remarkably similar to the one that ended last season. Given the veteran presence on the team, a lackluster preseason was predictable and ultimately meaningless. It’s time to drop the puck and to let the players on the ice answer the questions.
Don’t expect to see anything unusual from this year’s version of the Bruins. The team returns with the same core group, including a dynamic first line that is arguably the best in the NHL. It might be a bit odd seeing Brett Ritchie in something other than Victory Green, but you could easily open your eyes and confuse this year’s Bruins with last year’s Bruins.
Boston backs up their top line with the David Krejci line, featuring Jake DeBrusk and newcomer Karson Kuhlman, who made a splash in the AHL prior to making significant contributions in the Bruins’ playoff run last season. Krejci led the team in games played and was second in assists, keeping the second line a consistent threat. However, the Bruins may be without that second line threat with Krejci listed as a game-time decision for tonight.
For a Stars team that has concerns regarding secondary scoring, the Bruins defense presents a tough nut to crack. Boston may be looking to up the offense a bit from the backend this year, but the top two pairs have traditionally been balanced and effective. Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy take most of the top minutes, and have been effective in both offensive and defensive zones.
Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo have been equally as effective, albeit against slightly lesser competition.
The Bruins third pair is a significant drop-off, so that may be where the Stars need to take advantage of their chances.
In net, Boston brings back Tuukka Rask, who has, playoff run notwithstanding, shown deterioration in his play over the last several years.
In two early season meetings last year, the Bruins and Stars played into overtime in both games. Ben Bishop put up a shutout at American Airlines Center in an eventual 1-0 overtime win after Anton Khudobin drew a tough 2-1 overtime loss in Boston. Expect more of the same this year, with both teams looking to limit chances.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Jason Dickinson (18) - Roope Hintz (24) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Justin Dowling (37) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Miro Heiskanen (4) - Andrej Sekera (5)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Roman Polak (45)
Ben Bishop (30)
Boston Bruins Lineup
Brad Marchand (63) - Patrice Bergeron (37) - David Pastrnak (88)
Jake DeBrusk (74) - David Krecji (46) - Karson Kuhlman (83)
Danton Heinen (43) - Charlie Coyle (13) - David Backes (42)
Sean Kuraly (52) - Par Lindholm (26) - Chris Wagner (14)
Zdeno Chara (33) - Charlie McAvoy (73)
Torey Krug (47) - Brandon Carlo (25)
Matt Grzelcyk (48) - Connor Clifton (75)
Tuukka Rask (40)
Keys to the Game
Boston’s team is constant and consistent. Most of the team has played together for years and they know and understand their roles. The Stars, especially their top six, need to incorporate newcomer Joe Pavelski into a well-understood role. Also, the expectations for Roope Hintz are sky-high, but he’ll need to settle into a comfort zone as a driver of offense.
Dallas had trouble with slow starts last year. They will need to play their way into this game and this season without getting down early.
Although they aren’t officially paired together, expect Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg to get a number of starts together in the offensive zone. The Stars have struggled to score, and Boston isn’t going to make things easier, but together this creative tandem could spark some much needed offense.
The Faksa line needs to find a way to not get hemmed into their own zone against Boston’s top line. Zone exits for the Star’s third line were difficult at best last year, and if the Bergeron line gets on a cycle, they can be deadly.
Did you know?
The Bruins have five players scheduled to play who have been with the team for 10-plus years: Bergeron (15), Chara (13), Krejci (13), Rask (12), and Marchand (10). The Stars have just one: captain Jamie Benn.