California in 2020 is not the State of Hockey. Unless you’re looking at the bottom of the standings for teams that could challenge the Detroit Red Wings for the best chance at the number one draft pick.
After a pretty lackluster performance at Staples Center against the Western Division-worst Los Angeles Kings, the Stars could use a break from needing a comeback in order to win.
On Wednesday night, Dallas did no more than they needed to do in shaking off the rust from an extended break. Two goals in 37 seconds during a solid second period, followed by a pretty substantial turtle in the third did the trick. Anton Khudobin alternated between spectacular and entertaining, and in the end it was two more points gathered against a team that the Stars should, and did, beat.
Of late, the Stars haven’t been able to do much more than split sets of games in Southern California, so that in and of itself should be motivation heading into tonight’s game.
After being a perennial playoff team, the Ducks have fallen on hard times. If the Stars have been dinged by middle-of-the-pack draft picks, the Ducks are facing the same issue on steroids. This years team is in full-on rebuild mode, and several players could be on the move as the trade deadline approaches.
Last year, missing the playoffs, Anaheim was able to pick up IIHF World Junior standout Trevor Zegras as the ninth overall pick, but that doesn’t help this year. In the meantime, the Ducks have attempted a youth movement, buying out Corey Perry and then icing the top players from a San Diego Gulls team that made it to the Calder Cup semifinals last year.
If you drill down, the Ducks have been decimated by injuries to their NHL-ready prospect core. Fans in Orange County know the impact of Troy Terry and Derek Grant missing significant time. Other players slot in, and for a Stars fan, you may not notice. However, for Dallas, this would be the equivalent of losing Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov.
Early season success has settled into extended mediocrity. Ryan Getzlaf has declining numbers, but he still presents a threat as top-line center. Lately, Adam Henrique has been moved to the wing on the first line, and is having a sneaky good year. Rounding out that line is Daniel Sprong, recently brought back up from San Diego for the offense. Rumor from Anaheim Calling is that somebody even spotted him back-checking once since the call-up.
Remaining veterans Rickard Rakell and Ondrej Kase have been down a bit this year, and Jakob Silfverberg has been in and out of the lineup with a number of different ailments. When playing, the veterans have been moved throughout the lineup looking for some kind of chemistry. The rest of the forward corps is interchangeable and average, somewhat due to injury and somewhat due to inability. Devin Shore has been getting some time as center on the fourth line, but the Ducks really haven’t figured out a consistent way to use him.
The days of defensive depth in Anaheim are long gone, and they spent much of the year missing various pieces. As now configured, the top two pairs are decent, the surprise being Erik Gudbranson, who has gone from a reclamation project to heavy minutes in a leadership role. The bottom pair has been a rotating dumpster fire, to put it mildly.
Last year’s Ducks depended on goaltending to keep them in games and to steal points. John Gibson and Ryan Miller have both been good, but for this team they need to be spectacular.
Dallas Stars Lineup
With the West Coast start, last-minute lineup changes could be made and these could be updated prior to game time.
Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Denis Gurianov (34) - Roope Hintz (24) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Joel Kiviranta (25)
Esa Lindell (23) - Roman Polak (45)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Taylor Fedun (42)
Ben Bishop (30)
Anaheim Ducks Lineup
Adam Henrique (14) - Ryan Getzlaf (15) - Daniel Sprong (11)
Max Comtois (53) - Isac Lundestrom (48) - Rickard Rakell (67)
Max Jones (49) - Sam Steel (34) - Ondrej Kase (25)
Nicolas Deslauriers (20) - Devin Shore (29) - Carter Rowney (24)
Hampus Lindholm (47) - Josh Manson (42)
Cam Fowler (4) - Erik Gudbranson (6)
Michael Del Zotto (44) - Jacob Larsson (32)
John Gibson (36)
Keys to the Game
Score First. The Stars have given up the first goal in their last five victories. It’s nice to know that the team can make up early deficits, but that is not a recipe for long-term success. The Ducks ice an inexperienced forward group, and Dallas taking an early lead could suck the energy out of Honda Center.
Zone Exits. Against the Kings, the neutral zone was clogged, and with John Klingberg out, Miro Heiskanen was the only defender who could reliably move the puck forward with possession. Ultimately, the Stars stretch passes found some weaknesses in the Kings’ blue line, but over the course of the year, skating the puck out has led to more consistent offense. An aggressive Ducks forecheck could trap the Stars if they don’t skate.
Goaltending. Both teams feature great netminders. Either one could steal a game.
On a side note, anyone interested in watching Stephen Johns’ first game back with the Texas Stars on Friday night should check out ahl.tv’s free broadcast. Game time is 7:00 p.m. CST.