For the Dallas Stars, Tuesday night against the New York Rangers was an evening of experimentation and learning.
First, the Stars gave Alexander Radulov a 60-minute minor for tardiness, testing both the organization’s commitment to team rules and discipline, and also the resolve of the players, who were missing one of their primary scoring threats. That was not an easy task for an offensively challenged group. The team did rise to the occasion, but a 1-0 result, including multiple lackluster power plays, showed just how much Radulov was missed amid the potentially disastrous nature of his self-inflicted absence.
Dallas also played with a configuration of 11 forwards, seven defenders. A shutout might lead fans to believe that the test worked out just fine, but the underlying numbers don’t particularly bear that out. Jamie Oleksiak’s 10 shifts and 5:59 minutes of ice time was remarkable only in that it lead to a two-minute minor for holding when Boo Nieves blew by him on the way to the net.
One thing that we did learn from the juggled defensive pairings is that John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen can and should play together.
Heiskanen and Klingberg have now been paired for 89 minutes this season, and it’s hard to deny their chemistry. The numbers back up what your eyes were seeing.
Finally, Blake Comeau has taken nine minor penalties in his last 12 games. He now joins Brett Ritchie and Radulov in a parade of right wingers featuring in the box. This frequent delinquency from one position on a team that is last in the league in penalties drawn will not lead to a passing grade for special teams. Goaltenders Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have been spectacular this season, but spending significant time on the penalty kill is courting disaster. The Stars’ identity does not leave the team with any margin for this type of error.
The Colorado Avalanche come to Dallas while clinging to hopes of a playoff spot. Those hopes were kindled by an exceptional early season play, especially by their top line. Since going 7-2-2 to open the season, the Avalanche have put together three major losing streaks of at least five games, including an eight-game streak that ended in mid-February.
The primary reason that Colorado are still in the playoff conversation are their 12 overtime losses, which leads the Western Conference. No other team in the west is into double digits.
Still, in a world of streaks, the Avalanche are coming off of a pretty good stretch that has them back in the race. At 6-3-1 over the last 10, they’ve made up a bit of ground.
Like Dallas, the Colorado top line is the key to their success. In Dallas’ case, they generate offense in spite of a defense-first mindset. For Colorado, they depend on their top line to outscore their defensive problems.
Goaltending has been a particular problem for the Avalanche. They brought in Philipp Grubauer as heir apparent to Semyon Varlamov, but the transition has not been smooth. Varlamov has had a solid year, with a .910 save percentage and goals against under three. Grubauer, on the other hand is sitting at .897 with 3.21 goals against, and has managed a quality start in only 40% of his starts.
On the injury front for Colorado, Matt Nieto is out with a lower body injury and Nikita Zadorov is out with an upper body injury. For Dallas, Radek Faksa is day-to-day with a neck injury. Andrew Cogliano is expected to draw back in.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Roope Hintz - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Jason Dickinson - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie
Andrew Cogliano - Joel L’Esperance - Valeri Nichushkin
Miro Heiskanen - John Klingberg
Esa Lindell - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
Colorado Avalanche Lineup
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - J.T. Compher
Derick Brassard - Tyson Jost - Matt Calvert
Alexander Kerfoot - Sheldon Dries - Sven Andrighetto
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth - Ryan Graves
Keys to the Game
- Stay out of the penalty box. The Stars have been taking quite a few, and recently they haven’t had to pay for it. Loading up the Avalanche power play is dangerous, especially for a team that has been having trouble scoring.
- With Radek Faksa out, the Stars need to figure out matchups against the MacKinnon line. Cogliano is being called on to fill Faksa’s shoes, but this needs to be a team effort and head coach Jim Montgomery is going to need to sort it out on the fly.
- Composure. The Stars have been tied late in both of their games against Colorado this year. In a tight game, Dallas needs a short memory. Better yet, start strong and develop an insurmountable lead.
Did you know?
Colorado is one of only two Western Conference teams that have yet to lose to the Stars. The other is the Vegas Golden Knights.