It’s back! Finally. That’s right. Hockey is back in Dallas. It took a little longer than we had hoped for, but we can all breathe a big sigh of relief as the boys in victory green hit the ice. It’s hard to believe that it’s been four months since the Dallas Stars represented the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
As challenging as the 2019-2020 season was for Dallas, 2021 could be just as challenging physically and mentally. A quick recap, if you will. Dallas started the season ice-cold last year. They lost eight of their fist nine games and the only win was in overtime. The Stars had to let go their head coach in December 2019. Dallas then lost the six games before play was suspended in early March 2020 and then lost the first two games in the bubble.
Of course, we all know that Dallas overcame all of this on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. This year has already shown that Dallas is going to have to overcome some adversity. Several players (Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop) are still recovering from offseason surgery and will be out of the lineup until the latter half of the season. In addition to that, the Stars had to watch as everyone else in their division started playing hockey last week. All of that brings me to the key for opening night...
As stated above, the Stars got off to a rock start last year to open the season. That’s something they were able to recover from. This year could be different though. The NHL schedule is roughly 68% of that in a normal year. That means each game this season is the equivalent of almost 1.5 games during a regular NHL season. Simply put the farther you fall behind, the harder it will be to catch up.
Dallas doesn’t have to win every game, but they need to get points coming out of the gate. With the weeklong delay in starting the season, the Stars are already looking up in the standings.
Anton Khudobin won the heart of Dallas fans everywhere during the playoffs last summer. With Bishop injured, the backup goaltender took ownership of the net and played like an all-star. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought Khudobin was the number-one guy all along. Not only did he win hearts, but he also won a lot of games. That same attitude and mindset will be key to the fast start mentioned above. Khudobin needs to carry over that playoff momentum to the start of this season.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Obviously we haven’t seen a game yet, but here are the recent line combinations from practice, according to Twitter:
Jamie Benn (14) - Roope Hintz (24) - Dennis Gurianov (34)
Joel Kiviranta (25) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Ty Dellandrea (10)
Jason Robertson (21) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Nick Caamano (17)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Mark Pysyk (13)
Anton Khudobin (35)
Jake Oettinger (29)
Blake Comeau is out, per Rick Bowness.
Nashville Predators Lineup
Filip Forsberg (9) - Ryan Johansen (92) - Viktor Arvidsson (33)
Erik Haula (56) - Matt Duchene (95) - Luke Kunin (11)
Nick Cousins (21) - Colton Sissons (10) - Rocco Grimaldi (23)
Calle Jarnkrok (19) - Brad Richardson (15) - Yakov Trenin (13) / Mathieu Olivier (25)
Roman Josi (59) - Ryan Ellis (4)
Mattias Ekholm (14) - Dante Fabbro (57)
Mark Borowiecki (90) - Matt Benning (5)
Pekka Rinne (35)
Juuse Saros (74)
Analyzing the Enemy
Ever since Dallas ousted the Nashville Predators from the playoffs during the 2018-2019 season, there has been a nice rivalry brewing between the two clubs. Throw in the 2020 Winter Classic game at the Cotton Bowl and you have two teams that don’t like each other very much. Personally, I’m glad the NHL kept them in the same division when they did the realignment for 2021. I like hockey rivalries. It’s good for the sport and it’s good for the fanbase.
The Predators come into the game with four points thanks to a two-game sweep over the Columbus Blue Jackets. After losing the first game of a set to the Carolina Hurricanes, their second game was postponed due to a COVID-19 situation within the Carolina organization. Having last played on Monday, the Predators come in to the American Airlines Center fresh.
After splitting time with Pekka Rinne last season, goaltender Juuse Saros has made the most of his opportunities this year. Given the chance to claim the number-one job, Saros has shined. In his two games played this season, he is 2-0 with a .959 save percentage. This includes stopping 42 of 44 shots in their 5-2 win last Saturday.
Offensively, the Stars will still need to watch out for the same people. Filip Forsberg leads the team in goals with three in their first three games. Viktor Arvidsson joins Forsberg with the team-lead in points at three.