The Winter Classic it isn’t.
This afternoon, the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators renew their rivalry in a meaningful exhibition game in the Edmonton bubble. With limited time to get up to playoff speed, both teams appear to be taking this game seriously. A game with a rival plays into that narrative.
Ryan Johansen on the benefit of playing a rival (DAL) in the exhibition game tomorrow: "We're trying to get ready for playoff hockey, so in a way, it's a good thing that we're going to jump right into this competitive, intense game."— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) July 29, 2020
Dallas interim head coach Rick Bowness is looking to bulk up the offense, bring defenders into the play, and use more dynamic forward lines. At the same time, the Stars need to maintain their lockdown defensive efforts — the dynamic that got them into the top four in the Western Conference.
Training camp gave some focus to Stars prospects. Ty Dellandrea and Thomas Harley made the final roster. As enticing as that may be, the Stars team that hits the ice will be the same cast that fans have watched all year. Roman Polak opted out, which simplifies some of the decisions on the back end, but the players that we see will be the players that we’re used to seeing.
Dallas Stars Lineup
After a few experiments during training camp, the Stars appear to have settled on the following:
Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Roope Hintz (24) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Stephen Johns (28)
Ben Bishop (30) - 30 minutes, unless he faces limited action
Anton Khudobin (35) - remainder
Rick Bowness said that the Stars will take advantage of the 13F/7D setup in the exhibition.— Josh Clark (@Josh_Clark02) July 29, 2020
Justin Dowling and Taylor Fedun will be added to the lineup.
Nashville Predators Lineup
Like Dallas, Nashville replaced a head coach in the middle of the season. John Hynes has had time to adjust during the layoff, and the team has made adjustments in the expectation of getting more offense from its top forwards. In net, Juuse Saros had success against the Stars this season, but Pekka Rinne is the only netminder to start a playoff game for the Predators over the last decade. Based on their last training session, expect something like:
Filip Forsberg (9) - Ryan Johansen (92) - Viktor Arvidsson (33)
Kyle Turris (8) - Matt Duchene (95) - Mikael Granlund (64)
Rocco Grimaldi (23) - Nick Bonino (13) - Craig Smith (15)
Calle Jarnkrok (19) - Colton Sissons (10) - Austin Watson (51)
Roman Josi (59) - Ryan Ellis (4)
Mattias Ekholm (14) - Dante Fabbro (57)
Dan Hamhuis (5) - Korbinian Holzer (22)
Pekka Rinne (35)
Juuse Saros (74)
Keys to the Game
Goaltenders. Both teams have a 1A/1B setup in net and all four players should see time in the crease. Expect Ben Bishop to emerge as Playoff Goaltender No. 1 for Dallas. A sloppy performance by Rinne could put Saros into that slot for the Predators.
Changes. Quite a bit has been written about finding more offense out of the existing Stars lineup. Once the puck drops, we’ll see if those words mean anything. Look for defenders jumping into the play and attempts at a possession game. Sometimes words are just words, but other times they have consequences.
Precision. This is the first action against an opponent since March. Some rust is to be expected, but by the third period, passes should be hitting tape and players should be making reads as units.
If this was an actual playoff match, I’d expect the Stars to come out with a physical edge. If exhibition games from Tuesday and Wednesday are any indication, there will be an initial surge that comes with the renewal of play after four months off. Then it’s down to business — more than your usual preseason game, and with the goal of being ready for playoff hockey on Monday.