Tonight, the Dallas Stars return to American Airlines Center for the first game of a back-to-back set against division rivals. First up is the Minnesota Wild, who were last seen by Dallas skating away with a 7-0 blowout win against the Stars heading into the All-Star break.
Dallas returns home after a 2-0-1 jaunt through the New York metropolitan area, a trip that saw 11 goals in three games. Depth scoring led the way, with the Stars’ big three keeping their contributions to the assist column on the scoresheet.
Five points out of six works in most situations, and it was nice to see Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry light the lamp for the first time in a while. Goal-scoring leadership on the team is up for grabs, with four players having 14 or 15 on the season. With 29 games left, it’s probably a bit late to think that this isn’t what to expect the rest of the way — a handful of players hovering around 20 goals and 40 to 50 points.
As the season has progressed, there appears to be a widely held attitude that somebody will step up to score when it’s needed. And it doesn’t have to be a superstar. You get intangible benefits from veterans in the room, and we may be witnessing one of them.
Now, if the team could only step up before giving up the first goal of the game...
A week or so on the beach flipped their switch. They returned to the ice with an embarrassing showing in a 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins that had General Manager Bill Guerin questioning the future of the franchise in its current configuration.
The Wild are in a predicament heading toward the trade deadline. They have useful high-end players, but they’re all locked into long-term deals at prices that are not easy to move. If Minnesota can’t pull into playoff contention over the next few weeks, this team may be in for a complete rebuild.
Some of their issues should sound familiar to Stars fans. The Wild are carrying eight defenders after Matt Bartkowski was called up from Iowa on Thursday, a move that was precipitated by losing the seldom-used Nick Seeler to the Chicago Blackhawks on a waiver claim.
The Wild have been healthy, with the only significant loss thus far being Greg Pateryn, who had missed time recovering from back surgery. Pateryn’s return has relegated Carson Soucy to the press box, where he usually joins either Ryan Donato or Victor Rask. Top to bottom, the Wild are a team that doesn’t have a glaring weakness, at least until you look to the net.
Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock have split games evenly, and neither has been able to shoulder the load. Minnesota has had the worst netminding in the league this season, and it really isn’t close. Stalock had the start last night against the Vancouver Canucks, so it’s likely Dubnyk in net tonight.
Amazingly, two of the three Stars-Wild contests so far this year have been scoring fests. On paper, it sure doesn’t look like it should be.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn (14) - Roope Hintz (24) - Tyler Seguin (91)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Denis Gurianov (34) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Miro Heiskanen (4) - Roman Polak (45)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Stephen Johns (28)
Ben Bishop (30)
Minnesota Wild Lineup
Zach Parise (11) - Eric Staal (12) - Mats Zuccarello (36)
Jason Zucker (16) - Luke Kunin (19) - Kevin Fiala (22)
Jordan Greenway (18) - Joel Eriksson Ek (14) - Marcus Foligno (17)
Ryan Donato (6) - Mikko Koivu (9) - Ryan Hartman (38)
Ryan Suter (20) - Jared Spurgeon (46)
Jonas Brodin (25) - Matt Dumba (24)
Brad Hunt (77) - Greg Pateryn (29)
Devan Dubnyk (40)
Keys to the Game
Finishing Scoring Chances: Minnesota is weak in net, but the Stars have had trouble finishing on their scoring chances.
Getting a lead: The Wild embarrassed the Stars the last time out. With Minnesota on the second game of a back-to-back, and the Stars facing the St. Louis Blues the following night, Dallas could use an early lead that allows them to spread out minutes. Win the game and move on.
John Klingberg: Dallas’ puck-moving defender has been slowly improving after a rough start to the season. He’s back on the first power play, and his ability to change the point of attack in the offensive zone could be just the thing to get Benn and Seguin back into the scoring column.
Did you know?
Stephen Johns last saw major ice time during the 2017-18 season. During that season, what Dallas defender played the most even-strength minutes paired with Johns?