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Stars Enter Pivotal Stretch Starting With Wild Tonight

One goal at a time, the Dallas Stars inch their way forward in the points race. Tonight’s game comes with significant playoff implications.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
The Stars are creating high danger scoring chances, but they need to finish.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last seven games, the Dallas Stars have scored one or less goals five times. During that stretch, they’ve posted a 3-4-0 record. You’d think that a scoring drought like that would indicate that the team is in a funk and in the midst of a major downturn.

Not these Stars.

In spite of negligible scoring, the Stars are showing an xG rate rarely seen this season. Apparently, there is little correlation between xG and G, at least for Dallas.

Coming out of their extended All Star break, Dallas put together an energetic effort. Jamie Benn swaggered and yapped. The forecheck created turnovers, and those turnovers generated quality chances, if not goals. A third period push by the Buffalo Sabres tilted the even-strength statistics a bit, but this one seemed pretty comfortable, if a 1-0 game can ever seem comfortable.

Having regained their sea legs, the Stars now jump into the midst of a heated Western Conference playoff race. The next five games are against: the division-leading Nashville Predators (two away games), the Arizona Coyotes (one home and one away game), and tonight’s home matchup against the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota and Dallas have pulled just slightly above the divisional frenzy for the second Wild Card spot, but a regulation loss for either would nudge that team back toward the precipice.

Like the Stars, the Wild are playing some of their best hockey of the year.

Friday’s game is the Wild’s first since the All Star break. Over their last seven games, they’ve gone 4-3-0 while averaging just under three goals a game.

Consistency and focus appear to be an issue. During that span, the Wild have three wins against playoff teams. However, the only points they could muster in the remaining four against non-playoff teams were in a 3-2 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings.

Offensively, the Wild have at least two lines that can score, potentially three. Zach Parise continues to produce, even entering his mid-30s. Gone is Nino Niederreiter, but newcomers Victor Rask and Pontus Aberg have joined since the teams last played one another on December 22. With the player changes, Minnesota has made some line adjustments, including Parise on a line with the two new additions.

Defensively, Minnesota has an impressive first pair, but with Matt Dumba likely out for the year, adjustments have been made further down the lineup. Stars fans may recognize Greg Pateryn on the right side of the second pair. Without Dumba, the defense isn’t elite, but with Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon eating major minutes, they are still on the plus side of solid.

Goaltending has been the weak spot for Minnesota this year. All Star goaltender Devan Dubnyk may have only given up two regulation goals against the Stars this year, but his overall statistics have not been up to that level. Alex Stalock has not been an improvement as a backup.

The Stars goaltenders have enhanced the work of the defense. The Wild goaltenders have turned good defensive work into mediocre results.

Minnesota Wild Lineup

Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise - Victor Rask - Pontus Aberg
Jordan Greenway - Eric Staal - Charlie Coyle
Marcus Foligno - J.T. Brown

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Brad Hunt - Greg Pateryn
Nick Seeler - Jonas Brodin

Devan Dubnyk

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jamie Benn - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Andrew Cogliano - Jason Spezza - Valeri Nichushkin
Denis Gurianov - Roope Hintz - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak - Taylor Fedun

Ben Bishop

Keys to the Game

  • The Dallas Stars are turning into a one-goal team in a three-goal league. Statistically, they are getting quality chances, but it’s goals that lead to wins that lead to points. Continue to generate chances, but finish.
  • Dallas has an advantage in net. Make the Wild earn their chances.
  • The Wild top defensive pair is elite. Use the last change and take advantage of the second and third pairs.

Did you know?

The number of overtime games is down a statistically significant amount this year. At this rate, the average points for a team for the year will be 91, which is down from 92. More significantly, only 15 teams are at or above the league average of 55 points. This is pretty unusual, and the last time that something similar happened was during the 2015-16 season, when the Minnesota Wild made the playoffs with 87 points (and proceeded to lose to the Dallas Stars in the first round of the playoffs).