It is late into the season and the Dallas Stars are two games into a five-game home stand, but they have yet to play with a lead. Against the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks, the team has found itself looking up at a deficit within the first minute.
Against Vancouver, the Stars were able to complete a comeback to at least garner a consolation point, but nonetheless, playing from behind is not ideal for a team on the cusp of qualifying for their first playoff spot since the 2015-16 season.
Instead of rolling four lines on offense, the Stars have been forced to push Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn past 20 minutes a game. Likewise, on defense, Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, and Esa Lindell have been pushed to 25 minutes and beyond.
The Stars don’t have a two-day break in the schedule until they return home from Vancouver on March 30. Tired legs lead to tired minds. Whether causative or not, one of the issues with last March’s stumble out of the playoff race was an over-reliance on the top line. A physical toll was exacted from the Star’s leaders, and ultimately that led to Dallas once again watching playoff hockey instead of participating in it.
One positive out of the Vancouver game was the play of Valeri Nichushkin. In addition to the primary assist on Benn’s goal, Nichushkin also drew two penalties and drove possession in general.
After missing the last two games, Ben Bishop is available again and Landon Bow has been reassigned to the Texas Stars. Bishop only missed two games due to preventative measures for a possible injury, but will dress for tonight’s game. Blake Comeau is day-to-day and will be a game-time decision.
The Florida Panthers are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. However, they have been on a hot streak over the last week, having won four of their last five. During that streak, the Panthers have put up over four goals a game and have been riding the hot goaltending of rookie Sam Montembeault. Neither Roberto Luongo nor James Reimer have distinguished themselves to date, so the rookie is getting an extended look between the pipes.
Florida has five forwards with 20-plus goals on the season, and as a team, they are in the top ten for scoring. On the 5-on-5 play, the Panthers are ranked 17th in the league, but their 66 power play goals are second in the league only to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Defensively, the Panthers have locked in their top three for at least four more years, and each averages more than 20 minutes per game. As a group, they tend to drive offense, so shot share is pretty even. The primary weakness for Florida’s defense is the percentage of high danger scoring chances that they give up.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Mattias Janmark - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Roope Hintz - Joel L’Esperance
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Dickinson - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak - Ben Lovejoy
Ben Bishop starting means his consecutive minutes played without a goal against streak picks up again. Right now, he sits at 230:53 of goal-less hockey, ranking 25th all time on that list.
Taylor Fedun, who had a very good game last outing, will not play tonight due to a death in the family. Jason Spezza is a healthy scratch tonight.
Florida Panthers Lineup
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Frank Vatrano
Dryden Hunt - Riley Sheahan - Troy Brouwer
Jamie McGinn - Henrik Borgstrom - Colton Sceviour
Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad
Keith Yandle - MacKenzie Weegar
Mark Pysyk - Josh Brown
Keys to the Game
- Special Teams. Florida scores a lot on the power play. The Dallas penalty kill is ranked in the top five in the league, but Florida are best played at even strength. On the power play, the Stars need to demonstrate that they can get clean zone entries with somebody other than Spezza carrying in the puck.
- Bury the chances that they get. Dallas scores from the slot and the Panthers give up goals in the slot. If the Stars stick to their standard game plan, they should get plenty of good opportunities.
- Secondary scoring. The Stars’ advantage is in their forward depth. Players on the third or fourth line should have some chances to break out of some extended scoring slumps.
Did you know?
There will be five top three picks on the ice tonight. Aaron Ekblad (first in 2014), Tyler Seguin (second in 2010), Aleksander Barkov (second in 2013), Miro Heiskanen (third in 2017), and Jonathan Huberdeau (third in 2011).