When the Dallas Stars went two down against the lowly Los Angeles Kings last Thursday, fans could be excused for thinking they were witnessing yet another season heading down the drain. Instead, the Stars came back to win in overtime, and then backed it up with a no-nonsense win against the St. Louis Blues two days later.
Looking ahead, over the next 10 games, eight of them are in the friendly confines of American Airlines Center. Eight of those games are also against teams with less points, and seven are against teams that currently sit outside of a playoff position.
A good record over the next two weeks could solidify Dallas’ position in the playoffs, or even move them into a spot in the Central Division top three. It’s also a 10-game stretch that gets the Stars that much closer to getting a healed Mats Zuccarello back.
Opportunities can be wasted, but for now, things are looking up and there is no practical reason to dwell on the negative.
Enter the New York Rangers. The Rangers spent much of February sending players to the Central Division. Early on, Nashville picked up Cody McLeod, apparently thinking that they needed more size. The Winnipeg Jets also picked up center Kevin Hayes to bolster their second unit, in exchange for 22-year-old Brendan Lemieux.
Overall, not a wholesale fire sale, but the moves leave the Rangers with a solid core in their mid-twenties, with draft picks and cap space to build around them. That’s something that coach David Quinn in his first year can take forward as his own.
New York did hold on to a high-end top line, centered by Mika Zibanejad. The Rangers are extremely young up front and have been rolling out a top 11 all 27 years of age or younger. The third line, centered by 2017 seventh overall pick Lias Andersson may be the teams future, but in the meantime, they have been bleeding goals.
Defensively, the Rangers have been playing seven. Brady Skjei and Marc Staal form a formidable one-two punch down the left side, bringing size if not speed. As a unit, the New York defense doesn’t contribute much offensively, but they did remain intact through the trade deadline.
In net, Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t have the Vezina caliber numbers (.907 save percentage and a goals against average above three) that he used to, but after watching him beat them 2-1 on November 19, the Stars are well aware that Lundqvist can still steal a game.
This morning, Alexander Radulov was late and will not be in the lineup. Jamie Oleksiak will draw in as the Stars go 11-7.
Monty: “Radulov’s going to be out. He was late this morning. That’s all I’m going to talk about it.”— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) March 5, 2019
Radulov declined to speak to media after skating late with other healthy scratch.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Roope Hintz - Tyler Seguin - Jason Spezza
Jamie Benn - Joel L’Esperance - Brett Ritchie
Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Dickinson
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
New York Rangers Lineup
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Jimmy Vesey
Vladislav Namestnikov - Ryan Strome - Jesper Fast
Brendan Lemieux - Lias Andersson - Pavel Buchnevich
Brett Howden - Filip Chytil
Brady Skjei - Neal Pionk
Marc Staal - Anthony DeAngelo
Libor Hajek - Kevin Shattenkirk
Keys to the Game
- The Rangers push play to the edges. Dallas needs to get the puck to the crease and create rebound chances. That’s where New York gives up goals, so that’s where the Stars need to take the game.
- The Stars finished their four-game road trip with a emotional divisional win. This is the first game back home, and it is no time for a let-down.
- Jason Dickinson has quietly been centering lines that outplay their opponents. He has mainly been getting notice for taking shots to the face, but he’s due for a shot into the back of the net.
Did you know?
At the risk of bringing on a dreaded hockey curse, the Rangers are one of only seven teams with just one shutout on the year.