On Saturday night, the Chicago Blackhawks stretched the Dallas Stars defense and avoided the forecheck better than any other team during the current winning streak. To do that, they moved the puck quickly, and when they did, they hit tape on sticks.
It’s something that the Stars haven’t had to deal with lately, and in prior years, when Chicago has stretched out the defense in a similar fashion, they have been able to get breakaways that led to goals. That didn’t happen as much this time, and it speaks volumes to the progress that Dallas has made against longer passes this year.
The goal that they did give up was on a bad pinch that led to an odd number rush. Chicago was able to pull off a pass across the crease, and Anton Khudobin could never get set after his push to the right. It probably wasn’t the best pinch by Jamie Oleksiak, but given the open nature of the game, it probably wasn’t the only bad read — it was the bad read that ended up in the net.
Justin Dowling missed time at the end of the game after crashing with Oleksiak, and wasn’t on the ice for morning skate, as reported by Matt DeFranks from Dallas Morning News. Denis Gurianov was the healthy scratch, but with back-to-back games coming on Monday and Tuesday, should draw back in at least one time. Now that Roope Hintz has one game back under his belt, it might make sense to reunite the Gurianov, Hintz, Joe Pavelski line as a second line built for speed.
Defensively, John Klingberg played a fluid game in his first game back from injury without any major hiccups. The power play was noticeably better with him running the point, and by the end of the game, it looked like he had supplanted Miro Heiskanen on the first unit. With the power play hovering at under 13 percent, a bit more creativity will be useful, and having Klingberg quarterbacking the primary group, leaving Heiskanen to handle the second unit, should make the Stars more of a threat.
Vegas is a top-five penalty kill, so it won’t be easy, but the Stars have managed their current streak without much power play help, so a few more goals with the man-advantage could take this team to a whole new level.
Vegas comes into Dallas on a down streak, with a 3-5-2 record over their last 10. This is a good team that has lost a bit of their scoring touch recently, but they are a top-10 possession team that generates high-danger scoring chances at one of the highest rates in the league.
They have also had success against the Stars in Dallas. Combine that and a back-to-back, with travel; this sets up as a gut-check game.
The Golden Knights are one of the most complete offensive teams that the Stars have faced in a few weeks. They roll three effective lines, and their fourth line plays a hard-nosed, physical game that punishes opponents for the 10 minutes that they are on the ice.
Vegas scoring is more balanced that you might expect, with Reilly Smith and Mark Stone leading the team with just 10 goals. Alex Tuch missed time at the beginning of the season, but has been working his way back into the lineup.
Defensively, Vegas has size and some skill on the blue line. Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt will drive offense, but speed could create issues for their third pair. Watch out for big teenager Nicolas Hague on the second pair. He’s up from the Chicago Wolves after a great full year in the AHL last year.
In net, Marc-Andre Fleury has been handling most of the goaltending duties. Backup Malcolm Subban has only made it into five games, and he’s lost all five while saving less than 90 percent of shots and allowing well over three goals a game.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn (14) - Roope Hintz (24) - Tyler Seguin (91)
Alexander Radulov (47) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Roman Polak (45)
Ben Bishop (30)
Vegas Golden Knights Lineup
Jonathan Marchessault (81) - William Karlsson (71) - Reilly Smith (19)
Max Pacioretty (67) - Cody Eakin (21) - Mark Stone (61)
Alex Tuch (89) - Paul Stastny (26) - Cody Glass (9)
William Carrier (28) - Tomas Nosek (92) - Ryan Reaves (75)
Brayden McNabb (3) - Nate Schmidt (88)
Nicolas Hague (14) - Shea Theodore (27)
Nick Holden (22) - Deryk Engelland (5)
Marc-Andre Fleury (29)
Keys to the Game
Special Teams. So far, in their current streak, the Stars have been able to rely on a superior penalty kill, but their power play has been dead on arrival. This feels like a game where one of those will change.
Second Lines. The Stars’ first line and checking lines could easily offset. The second line that carries the action to their offensive zone could tip the balance.
Goaltending. Ben Bishop and Marc-Andre Fleury is all that needs to be said.
Physical Play. Vegas will hit, both with their fourth line and throughout the defensive corps. The Stars can’t afford to get bogged down in one-on-one battles that keep the team from playing their synchronized game.