The streak continues. If the Dallas Stars score first, they win. If not, well...
Ben Bishop finally got his first shutout of the year on Tuesday night against a bad New Jersey Devils team. The Stars hit the ice with purpose, and rode the strength of an early goal by Radek Faksa to a relatively straightforward victory.
Dallas was able to roll four lines, with the only bad matchups being those few occasions where the fourth line got stuck on the ice with the Devils’ top two lines. The Faksa line was particularly effective.
Rick Bowness appears to be operating under the “if it’s working, don’t fix it” theory, and lines at the morning skate on Thursday looked a lot like the lines during Tuesday’s game. If one game can show a trend, it also looks like Bowness may not be as prone to throwing lines in a blender as his predecessors.
The Vegas Golden Knights fell 4-2 against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. On the other hand, Dallas is entering the game after two rest days, albeit on the first game of a back-to-back themselves. Which brings us back full circle to the importance of a quick start.
Vegas has been a bit streaky since the end of October. Through that time, they’ve survived a seven-game stretch without Marc-André Fleury. Consistency and finish have been the Golden Knights’ major issues, and that has left a team that was expected to contend for the top spot in the Pacific Division sitting on the edge of the Wild Card race.
The Stars beat Vegas 4-2 on November 25, and the Golden Knights are largely intact since that game. On offense, the Golden Knights did pick up Chandler Stephenson from the Washington Capitals to bolster their face-off percentage and penalty kill. Stephenson was originally a fourth-line center option, but with Cody Eakin out on a week-to week-basis after a hit to the head, he has seen time further up the lineup.
Valentin Zykov is also back in the lineup after serving a 20-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy. Zykov is filling in at wing, replacing rookie Cody Glass, who is also out after going through concussion protocol.
The Golden Knights have a better-than-average defensive group and spread ice time throughout all three pairs. For the most part, the left side has the size and the right side has the skill.
Fleury is top tier in net, picking up a shutout in his first game back. Malcolm Subban, who was in net for the November loss to the Stars, has been an inconsistent backup. Fleury will most likely start against the Stars and be looking for redemption after yesterday’s loss to St. Louis.
While the results haven’t been what would have been expected at the start of the year, Vegas remains a playoff-caliber team. A hot 10-game streak could easily move them to the top of their division, and the Stars cannot afford to take them lightly.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn (14) - Mattias Janmark (13) - Tyler Seguin (91)
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)
Vegas Golden Knights Lineup
Jonathan Marchessault (81) - William Karlsson (71) - Reilly Smith (19)
Max Pacioretty (67) - Chandler Stephenson (20) - Mark Stone (61)
William Carrier (28) - Paul Stastny (26) - Alex Tuch (89)
Valentin Zykov (7) - 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. Vegas is top 10 in both the power play and the penalty kill. The Stars have had a recent streak of luck on the power play, but it hasn’t looked sustainable. Their home penalty kill is on a long goalless streak. Something is bound to give.
Don’t get caught up in needless physicality. The Golden Knights’ fourth line tries to impose their will, and they have done this with success against the Stars on occasion in the past. The Stars need to keep their physicality within the flow of the game.
Stay focused. This has been a week of upheaval. The Stars finished off an unusual Tuesday by taking any pent-up emotion to the ice to overwhelm the Devils. Sometimes, it takes a few days to come to terms with change and it will be a challenge for the group to not have a letdown.
Score first. Statistically, this is a no-brainer, but this has turned into a long-term thing for Dallas this year. Ride it while it’s working.