The round robin playoffs are over, and the Dallas Stars emerged on Sunday with a last-minute goal that they parlayed into an overtime win. The game was so important to the NHL that the league couldn’t be bothered to produce reliable and detailed statistics.
By the eye test, the Stars had their best game of the pre-playoff round, although the St. Louis Blues didn’t put up much resistance. Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop both missed the game, so lines were jumbled, with Joel Kiviranta drawing in — adding energy and at least one decent scoring chance.
Based on reports from the media-absent bubble, there is at least some chance that the Stars will be at full strength for the start of the series against the Calgary Flames.
Rick Bowness said, "Everyone is healthy, so we'll see what tomorrow brings," when asked about whether Ben Bishop or Tyler Seguin are good to go for tomorrow and what lineup might look like.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) August 10, 2020
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Denis Gurianov (34)
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)
Calgary Flames Lineup
Johnny Gaudreau (13) - Sean Monahan (23) - Elias Lindholm (28)
Matthew Tkachuk (19) - Mikael Backlund (11) - Andrew Mangiapane (88)
Milan Lucic (17) - Sam Bennett (93) - Dillon Dube (29)
Mark Jankowski (77) - Derek Ryan (10) - Tobias Rieder (16)
Mark Giordano (5) - T J Brodie (7)
Noah Hanifin (55) - Rasmus Andersson (4)
Derek Forbort (20) - Erik Gustafsson (56)
Cam Talbot (39)
The Flames’ top two lines both present significant offensive challenges, and the Stars need to develop a strategy to negate both. Dallas starts as the home team, so how the Faksa line matches up will mostly set the table.
Interestingly, in the first matchup of the year, the Stars put the Faksa line up against the Flames’ checking line, creating a straight-up matchup between the top lines. The teams haven’t faced each other since 2019, so there isn’t much available to show how interim head coach Rick Bowness will set up the lines.
To start off, I’d expect the Stars to match the Seguin line with the Tkachuk line, giving Benn an opportunity to match skill and physicality with the Flames’ catalyst. That would leave the Faksa line against Calgary’s top line.
Calgary’s glaring weakness is their fourth line, and the Stars have an opportunity with either the Pavelski line or the Dickinson line to gain an advantage.
Defensively, the Flames did a great job against the Winnipeg Jets in forcing play to the outside. The Stars’ challenge will be to not settle for working the puck around the boards. If Calgary pushes play away from the net and Dallas can’t get their transition game with Hintz and Gurianov going, it’s going to be a challenge to score — and Dallas already has concerns there.
The top pair of Giordano and Brodie get most of the tough minutes. Against Winnipeg, they battled the Jet’s only dangerous line to a draw. Hanifin and Andersson make a younger and mobile second pair. On the third pair, Gustafsson has come back to earth after one solid season with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Forbort is an AHL tweener. They bring size, but should be a weakness.
Cam Talbot has been in net for each Flames game so far in the playoffs.
Keys to the Game
Special Teams. Calgary dominated special teams against Winnipeg. The Stars penalty got better as the round robin progressed, but the power play never found its stride. How these playoff games get called is the great unknown. Hockey in the bubble has been tightly called, and that stands in contrast with the modus operandi for past postseason play.
Turning on the Switch. Was the lack of intensity in the round robin a bug or a feature? The first 10 minutes tonight (and maybe Jamie Benn’s first shift) will go a long way to answering the question.
Puck Luck. If expected goal models are to believed, the Stars have been generating quality scoring chances without seeing much go in the net. A little puck luck could light a much-needed spark for Dallas.
In Case You Missed It
Kelly Forbes kept his offsides challenge streak alive late in the first period against the St. Louis Blues, negating a goal by Vince Dunn. On the waved-off goal, Dunn found himself open inside the face-off circle, but how he got there demonstrates a cascade of misfortune/misplay for the Stars.
Action starts with Heiskanen cross-checking Jaden Schwartz in the middle of the crease. The check knocks Schwartz off-balance, and he uses it as an excuse to slash Janmark’s stick out of his hands.
From there, Gurianov gets caught overplaying Vladimir Tarasenko, which opens up Dunn, Meanwhile, Janmark throws up his hands, and then plays pylon, keeping Heiskanen from getting out to support a collapsing Gurianov. As the puck hits the net, Janmark is finally picking up his stick after blocking Pavelski from dropping down to cover a net-driving Schwartz.
With the successful offsides challenge, all of this is wiped out, but it does show how multiple minor problems can lead to big goals.