Tight checking and low scoring. That’s the way that the Dallas Stars’ second round series against the St. Louis Blues has been billed, and Game 1 lived up to the hype. At least, it did until the Blues took a two-goal lead.
At that point, the Stars flipped the ice and started throwing pucks at Jordan Binnington with regularity. Ultimately, that didn’t work out, but it made all of the advanced stats tilt the Stars’ way.
The question for Game 2 is whether the offensive pressure that Dallas brought in the third period was score effects or whether the Stars found their legs in this new series. St. Louis has been the best team in the Western Conference since New Year’s, so losing 3-2 to a rested home favorite is not cause for panic. The loss did, however, bring out some areas in the Stars’ game that could need to be reviewed and addressed.
Ben Bishop didn’t catch any breaks in the first game. Whether it was Robby Fabbri’s off-speed wrister that found five-hole, a perfect tic-tac-toe power play setup, or a barely missed poke check, the Blues found ways to get the puck into the net. Bishop need to be better, or if not, then luckier.
Vladimir Tarasenko is a player built to take advantage of Dallas’ weaknesses. He’s fast enough to blow by slower Stars and he’s strong enough to out-muscle the less stout Dallas defenders. Sometimes he does both. Did I mention that he’s a world-class sniper?
The Blues defense is significantly slanted toward the right side. Between Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, that’s a lot of pressure on the Dallas left wingers, and outside of Jamie Benn, the Stars have a weakness in that matchup, at least the way the lines worked out on Thursday night.
Forward matchups were pretty predictable. At even-strength, the Seguin line played heads-up against the O’Reilly line, and to the Stars’ advantage. Likewise, the Stars’ fourth line was dominant against the Blues’ fourth line. Of course, these Blues lines were responsible for all three goals, so sometimes shot share and expected goals don’t tell the whole story.
The war in the trenches was between the teams’ second and third lines, and this is where the Blues had the upper hand. Time was somewhat split, with the lines sometimes going straight up second-on-second and third-on-third, and sometimes swapping those matchups. The Faksa line was able to maintain their steady low-event version of hockey. The Hintz line, however, had some issues, especially when going up against Brayden Schenn’s second line.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jason Dickinson - Roope Hintz - Mats Zuccarello
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Justin Dowling - Jason Spezza
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
St. Louis Blues Lineup
David Perron - Ryan O’Reilly - Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz - Brayden Schenn - Oskar Sundqvist
Patrick Maroon - Tyler Bozak - Robert Thomas
Robby Fabbri - Ivan Barbashev - Alexander Steen
Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester - Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson - Vince Dunn
One game does not make a trend, and going into Game 2, it’s difficult to say that the Stars need to make any early series adjustments. Sometimes, you just need to do what you’ve been doing, only better.
On the other hand, the top line of Benn-Seguin-Radulov worked wonders against Nashville, but the Predator’s second line was under-performing. The same can’t be said for the Blues. Dallas head coach Jim Montgomery mixed up the top lines a bit in the third period of Game 1, and it did give the Stars a more consistent top-six threat. Throwing all of the marbles into the top line bucket is a calculated risk, especially on the road.
Against the top two defense pairing, especially Pietrangelo and Parayko on right defense, Dallas may want to look at someone other than Jason Dickinson. Nothing against Dickinson’s game, but there isn’t anything that he brings that takes either of those right defenders out of their comfort zone. Mattias Janmark brings speed, and opens up to stretch passes, which could force some adjustments.
Valeri Nichushkin offers size and possession at left wing, especially if moved into a third line role. Patrick Maroon might break Andrew Cogliano, which doesn’t do anybody any good. The bonus to a change is that Jason Dickinson could actually tear up the Blues’ third defensive pair.
However, none of this makes any difference, if the Stars can’t work through how to defend against Tarasenko. In Game 1, he blew through a tight gap against Polak, which was to be expected, especially on Polak’s weak side. Having him do the same thing to Heiskanen is troubling.