Having returned to the NHL version of .500, the Dallas Stars begin a four-game swing through western Canada facing a new set of questions and challenges.
Starting on Sunday with the Winnipeg Jets, the Stars need to adjust to life without John Klingberg, and what that means for zone exits, possession, and the power play. Klingberg, admittedly, has not been off to a great start to the year, but his improved play has coincided with the current Stars’ winning streak.
To plug that gap, Andrej Sekera is slated to rejoin the lineup, reportedly in Klingberg’s slot on the right side of the first defensive pair. This raises concerns about exits from the defensive zone, especially given Esa Lindell’s metrics in that area. So far this season, the pair has logged 65 minutes together, with mixed results.
There really aren’t any bright spots in the offensive chart for the pair. Fortunately, the defensive chart looks equally as suppressed, with a bit of a weakness at the net on the left side.
On offense, the team will again be without Roope Hintz. Against the Colorado Avalanche, Jason Dickinson filled in admirably, but with the emphasis on special teams during that game, plus the early Stars lead, the Jets could be a more representative test.
Secondary scoring proved the difference against Colorado, but that has not been reliable for the Stars this year, especially on the road.
Ben Bishop is expected to handle net duties.
This year’s Jets team is not the power that they once were, even last year. Significant defections on the blue line have left Winnipeg without even the semblance of a dependable first pair.
Josh Morrissey and Dmitry Kulikov handle the left side of the first two pairs, but neither has had a steady partner. Morrissey, in particular, has suffered as a result of the departure of Jacob Trouba.
For the time being, Tucker Poolman has found a spot on the right side of the first pair after 38 unspectacular NHL games. On second pair, Neal Pionk has been better than expected since coming over in the Trouba trade.
Offensively, the Jets still have multiple scoring options, although head coach Paul Maurice has spent much of the first part of the season mixing and matching while looking for three solid lines. Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, and Blake Wheeler still pose significant threats, but the Jets have not shown the same scoring threat as they have in prior seasons. The shooting percentage is down, which could explain most of the difference.
With an inexperienced defensive corps, Winnipeg started the year trying to outscore their defensive lapses. More recently, the team has made a concerted effort to slow the game down, with even Laine getting in on the backcheck. Think of the Jets as you would the Ken Hitchcock Stars from two years ago.
In net, Connor Hellebuyck has been having a bounce back season, and has been getting most of the starts.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Denis Gurianov (34) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Jamie Benn (14) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Justin Dowling (37) - Corey Perry (10)
Esa Lindell (23) - Andrej Sekera (5)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Joel Hanley (39) - Taylor Fedun (42)
Ben Bishop (30)
Winnipeg Jets Lineup
Kyle Connor (81) - Mark Scheifele (55) - Patrik Laine (29)
Nikolaj Ehlers (27) - Blake Wheeler (26) - Jack Roslovic (28)
Andrew Copp (9) - Adam Lowry (17) - Mathieu Perreault (85)
Joona Luoto (46) - David Gustafsson (19) - Logan Shaw (38)
Josh Morrissey (44) - Tucker Poolman (3)
Dmitry Kulikov (7) - Neal Pionk (4)
Nathan Beaulieu (88) - Luca Sbisa (5)
Connor Hellebuyck (37)
Keys to the Game
Handling the Winnipeg forecheck. Ehlers and Copp can be especially disruptive, and with John Klingberg out, the Stars don’t have time to adjust to his absence.
Pace. The Stars have been rolling four lines. The Jets’ fourth line gets around six minutes a game. If the Stars can get and maintain possession in the offensive zone, they could wear the Jets team down.
Winning the battle of the neutral zone. Both teams have weaknesses to exploit if they get trapped in their defensive zone. Clogging up the middle and counterattacking is vital.
Did you know?
Luca Sbisa has played four games with the Jets since he was claimed on waivers from the Anaheim Ducks. Sbisa was signed by the Ducks, who have their own set of defensive issues, with the intention of sending him to the AHL.
Puck drop is at 1 p.m. CT on Sunday, November 10.