Home ice has been kind to the Dallas Stars since the middle of October. After a shaky start, the Stars have posted a stellar 11-2-0 record at American Airlines Center. In that time, they are 5-5-2 on the road. Not a bad split, but it does show the importance of home ice to the Stars as they push back into the playoff race.
Against the New York Islanders on Saturday, Dallas was able to parlay an impressive first period into a fairly undramatic 3-1 victory. The Islanders so far are having a great year, but it’s a team built on defense. Facing a 2-0 deficit after 20 minutes, New York needed an offensive push, something that isn’t a part of their core competency.
Alexander Radulov drew back in and was his better, disruptive self without the stick foul downside. Mattias Janmark was productive on a top line that was dangerous, in spite of not hitting the scoresheet.
With the lead, the team was able to roll all four lines, and ice time was as balanced as it has been all year.
The last two wins have at least temporarily quelled the concerns that had crept back into Stars’ fanbase after a four-game losing streak culminated in a 5-1 disaster loss in Winnipeg. Much of that streak was on the road, and the team’s ability to consistently win away from Texas may need evaluation if the trend of mediocre play continues.
Dallas doesn’t have a big road trip until a January swing though California, so for now that evaluation will need to wait. The question for Tuesday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils is how the Stars perform against a team that, on paper, they should beat. Top teams in the NHL power through games like this.
New Jersey has lost five games in a row, and they’ve been doing it by giving up goals in bunches. The Devils made several big splashes during the offseason, pulling in P.K. Subban in a blockbuster trade with the Nashville Predators, using leverage to extract the rights to KHL standout Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights, and topped by grabbing Jack Hughes as the first pick in the draft.
Throw in Wayne Simmonds as a free agent, and decent returning talent, and there were high hopes in some quarters that this should be a playoff team.
Little of that has panned out. Subban and Simmonds have been decent, but they have also shown signs of being on the wrong side of the aging curve. Gusev may have been the star of the KHL, but his numbers have not translated well onto NHL ice. Hughes will probably be great, but he’s still an 18-year-old playing his first professional season.
All of this has led to talk about breaking up the whole mess, trading players who can generate a reasonable return, and just starting the whole process over. The Detroit Red Wings are making the battle for the absolute bottom of the league tough, but cleaning house in New Jersey would and should keep them in the conversation.
First-line center Nico Hischier has missed the last two games with an unspecified illness, and he missed practice on Monday, so will likely still be out. That leaves Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri paired up with Hughes on a dangerous top line.
On defense, Sami Vatanen continues to play quality defense while being an offensive threat. Ex-Star Connor Carrick has been out all season in injured reserve, but is currently on a conditioning assignment, so his return is imminent.
In net, Louis Domingue was added to replace Corey Schneider, who was sent to the AHL after an 0-5 start to the season. Since then, Mackenzie Blackwood has taken most of the starts for the Devils, but he’s sporting a save percentage below .900 and is giving up more than three goals a game.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Mattias Janmark (13)
Alexander Radulov (47) - Roope Hintz (24) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Denis Gurianov (34) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Roman Polak (45)
Ben Bishop (30)
New Jersey Devils Lineup
Taylor Hall (9) - Jack Hughes (86) - Kyle Palmieri (21)
Blake Coleman (20) - Travis Zajac (19) - Nikita Gusev (97)
Jesper Boqvist (90) - Pavel Zacha (37) - Jesper Bratt (63)
Miles Wood (44) - Kevin Rooney (16) - Wayne Simmonds (17)
Andy Greene (6) - P.K. Subban (76)
Sami Vatanen (45) - Damon Severson (28)
Will Butcher (8) - Mirco Mueller (25)
Mackenzie Blackwood (29)
Keys to the Game
Goaltending. Whoever is in net, the Stars have been good. The Devils have been bad. This is no time for Dallas to have an opponent’s netminder turn into a hero.
Radulov. The Russian forward was central to the effort against the Islanders. He doesn’t need to put up two points a game, but Radulov needs to show up as a consistent positive impact player on the team.
Benn and Sequin. The play of the Stars’ stars has been good as of late. This is the type of game where they can and should hit the scoresheet.
Focus. With all of the distractions of the day, take the opportunity to clear the mind and just play hockey.