The Dallas Stars finish up a four-game trek through western Canada today with a matinee against the surprising Edmonton Oilers. Depth scoring was matched by primary scoring during the road trip, and Anton Khudobin made a few quality saves down the stretch to ensure the victory.
Unfortunately, the injury carousel continued to turn, with Roman Polak drawing back in for the first time since opening night, and Blake Comeau hit the scoresheet for the first time after spending most of the last month on the injured list.
Unfortunately, Jason Dickinson was tag-teamed in the corner, turning two benign bumper car checks into a face mashed into the glass. Dickinson returned to finish off the game, but is now listed as day-to-day.
Vancouver proved incapable of handling the combination of a physical forecheck and counterattack speed. Physicality also took Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes out of their skill game, pushing most of the Canuck attack to the boards where they proved mostly ineffective.
At some point, the Stars are either going to get healthy or their depth players are going to be exposed. For now, the team is riding a strong wave of skater confidence and reinvigorated goaltending back into contention in the Central Division.
Unexpectedly, first year head coach Dave Tippett’s Oilers find themselves in first place in the Pacific Division. They’ve done so by relentlessly putting the puck in the net. The teams that have beaten them have done so by keeping Edmonton’s scoring in check, with only one of their losses coming in a game where the Oilers potted three goals.
Much of the offense has been driven by the top line, especially Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. James Neal has also scored 12 goals for the season, most of that early in the season and on the power play.
Defensively, the Oilers are young and untested. Darnell Nurse brings some physicality and Oscar Klefbom runs a highly successful power play.
In net, Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen have split time. Both have size, and Smith is still a risk-taking puck mover, but Koskinen’s numbers have been better.
Dallas Stars Lineup
With Dickinson day-to-day and a matinee start, the lineups are not set. If Dickinson isn’t a player, the Stars could go with seven defenders, which would bring Joel Hanley back into the lineup.
Jamie Benn (14) - Justin Dowling (37) - Tyler Seguin (91)
Alexander Radulov (47) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)
Denis Gurianov (34) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Nicholas Caamano (17)
Rhett Gardner (49) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Esa Lindell (23) - Andrej Sekera (5)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Roman Polak (45) - Taylor Fedun (42)
Ben Bishop (30)
Edmonton Oilers Lineup
Leon Draisaitl (29) - Connor McDavid (97) - Zack Kassian (44)
James Neal (18) - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) - Alex Chiasson (39)
Joakim Nygard (10) - Gaetan Haas (91) - Patrick Russell (52)
Jujhar Khaira (16) - Riley Sheahan (23) - Josh Archibald (15)
Darnell Nurse (25) - Ethan Bear (74)
Oscar Klefbom (77) - Matthew Benning (83)
Caleb Jones (82) - Kris Russell (4)
Mikko Koskinen (19)
Keys to the Game
Special teams. Edmonton scores at more than a 30% rate, good for second in the league. Their penalty kill is also top five. A significant amount of even-strength play would benefit the Stars.
Control McDavid and Draisaitl. These are the two guys who make this team go. Stop them, and Dallas likely wins.
Team depth. The Stars need to roll four lines, and when given the opportunity, take advantage of a young Oilers defense and a week bottom-six forward group.
Did you know?
As a result of this summer’s buyout, Edmonton still owes Andrej Sekera $8 million over the next four years.
Between buyouts and retained salary, the Oilers have just under $5 million of cap space tied up this year in players who are no longer on the team.