The Dallas Stars will be spending more time at home at a very opportune moment in their 2019-20 season. Their excellent record (19 wins, 10 losses and two overtime losses) in American Airlines Center will be put to the test starting tonight, as they take on the high-scoring, fast-skating Edmonton Oilers.
Speaking of fast skating, what more can be said about Denis Gurianov? He leads the team in scoring this season after netting his 20th goal during Saturday’s shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues. Gurianov seems to make something happen every time he takes to the ice, but interim head coach Rick Bowness has played him sparingly and in truncated shifts. Will he continue to thrive if he gets more minutes, or will he be most effective in the short, overwhelming bursts he currently plays?
Tyler Seguin is still the scoring leader with 50 points, 33 of them assists. Even more, his reliability on the dot has contributed mightily to the Stars’ No. 5 league ranking in face-off wins. The home team will need all the possession they can get tonight to tamp down the Oiler’s offense.
Stephen Johns returns to the lineup tonight, with fellow blueliner Roman Polak sitting to make room for him. The Stars have earned points in Johns’ past four of five games, and it’s hard to argue that they’re not a better team when he’s playing.
As Mike Heika points out, in a very real way the Stars are defined by their goaltending. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin currently are running second for the Jennings Trophy, given to the NHL team that allows the fewest goals. It also helps that they both have great home records, with a combined 2.23 goals allowed on American Airlines Center ice. The Stars play their next five of six games in the AAC, and they’re counting on picking up a bagful of precious points.
Khudobin will get the start tonight with Bishop day-to-day due to a lower-body injury. Khudobin’s sparkling 6-1-0 home record includes a .946 save percentage and 1.37 goals against. As Sean Shapiro reminds us, he has not allowed more than one goal at home since October. If Khudobin can keep that streak going, the Stars may win much of the battle in their own zone.
That said, previous Stars-Oilers matchups have favored the road team this season. Can the good guys break the cycle?
The Victory Green Gang will need all the goal-stopping they can against the speedy, offense-happy Oilers. Leon Draisaitl — one of the few players in the NHL who can steal thunder from Connor McDavid — scored four goals last night, including his 40th of the season, during an 8-3 thumping of the Nashville Predators. The league’s First Star of the Month for February has racked up eight apples in his past five games, so the Stars will focus on stopping him if they can.
Remember McDavid? He had five points in last night’s game, including a goal and four assists. While he’s a bit off his own heady scoring pace at only two tallies in the past five games, he’s compensated by turning into a helper machine with 11 assists during that period. He and Draisaitl make a deadly duo, and the Stars will need to neutralize them.
Former Star Kris Russell is a game-time decision for the Oilers. The defenseman has been on injured reserve for a concussion he sustained January 29, but he was in the lineup and logged nearly 15 minutes against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night.
Another former Star, Alex Chiasson, is in the midst of a scoring dry spell, having gone pointless in his past nine games. Expect him to fill fourth-line minutes in tonight’s game.
Yet another former Dallas player, Mike Smith, was in net for last night’s Oilers victory. Backup tender Mikko Koskinen is likely to play the second half of the back-to-back tonight.
Speaking of that back-to-back, the Stars may want to set the pace early and wear the Oilers down by matching speed for speed. (Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz, please pick up the Victory Green courtesy phone.)
The Stars’ probable lines, based on yesterday’s practice:
Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Corey Perry (10)
Roope Hintz (24) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Justin Dowling (37) is tonight’s healthy scratch as Radulov returns to the lineup.
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Stephen Johns (28)
Roman Polak (45) and Taylor Fedun (42) are the expected healthy scratches.
Khudobin will mind the net, with hot prospect Oettinger getting the backup call-up from the Texas Stars due to Bishop’s lower-body injury.
Last night’s lineup, courtesy of Daily Faceoff:
Tyler Ennis (63) - Connor McDavid (97) - Josh Archibald (15)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) - Leon Draisaitl (29) - Kailer Yamamoto (56)
Andreas Athanasiou (28) - Riley Sheahan (23) - Zack Kassian (44)
Jujhar Khaira (16) - Gaetan Haas (91) - Alex Chiasson (39)
Another former Star, James Neal (18), will return to the lineup tonight after 16 games out due to an ankle injury. No word on who will sit in his place, but the Real Deal could get top-six minutes and time on the first power-play unit.
Darnell Nurse (25) - Ethan Bear (74)
Caleb Jones (82) - Adam Larsson (6)
Kris Russell (4) - Matt Benning (83)
Mike Smith (41)
Mikko Koskinen (19)
Puck drop: 7:30 p.m. CST (American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX)
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