Four games in; eight points. Hard to ask for a better start to the season. Sure, the two most recent victories were over the Detroit Red Wings, certainly not the best NHL competition. Nashville, on the other hand, is 4-1 outside of those loses to the Stars, so it’s not like they’re playing bad hockey.
Today’s game is the Stars’ first road game of the year, and it’s against one of the Central Division’s preseason favorites, the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina is fresh off of a 1-0 victory in overtime over the Tampa Bay Lightning — no easy task. They’ve pulled out six of a possible eight points, and are well on the way to being the puck possession/fancy stats darlings of the league. It’s a position in which they’ve found themselves frequently over the last few years.
Both teams have been stuck in COVID-19 protocol in the young season. The four games that each have played is a league low.
Each team also finds itself without significant contributors throughout the lineup. Dallas has been hit with a rash of injuries, leaving them with a top nine littered with rookies and members of the early season taxi squad. Carolina finds themselves with five starters unavailable and on the COVID protocol list.
Carolina has adjusted by loading up their top six, leaving a fourth line with limited experience. The Stars have sprinkled their replacements throughout the lineup.
One major difference is that the Hurricanes have also been hit on the blue line, specifically minute-eating and defensive standout, Jaccob Slavin. Carolina shut out the Lightning without him in their last game. Jake Bean, the 2016 first-round draft pick, looked good filling in on the third pair with Haydn Fleury, but that pair is going to drive offense, not fill the defensive hole left by Slavin’s absence.
This series should be a good measuring stick for the depleted Stars. Carolina’s offense is missing key cogs, so the Dallas defense should be able to keep things locked down pretty tight.
On the other hand, the Carolina defense is more offensive-zone oriented without Slavin. That should give Dallas a chance to get some good looks at the Carolina net, especially off the counter attack.
The season is young, but both teams have been getting top-notch goaltending, so the end result could just come down to who steals it in the net. Petr Mrazek and Anton Khudobin are both at the top of the goals saved above expectation list.
Goaltender shot quality faced with results relative to expected (100 shots or more faced).— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 29, 2021
I am taking great pleasure in the people who mocked my Carolina pick this off-season by maligning their goaltending. pic.twitter.com/6aJTemVzcf
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn and Joel Kiviranta are both coming off of injured reserve and Benn is expected to play. There is also a chance that either Roope Hintz or Blake Comeau could find their way into the lineup.
Jamie Benn (14) - Justin Dowling (37) - Dennis Gurianov (34)
Tanner Kero (64) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Ty Dellandrea (10)
Joel L’Esperance (38) - 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)
Carolina Hurricanes Lineup
Andrei Svechnikov (37) - Sebastian Aho (20) - Brock McGinn (23)
Nino Niederreiter (21) - Vincent Trocheck (16) - Martin Necas (88)
Steven Lorentz (78) - Jordan Staal (11) - Ryan Dzingel (18)
Max McCormick (28) - Morgan Geekie (67) - Sheldon Rempal (41)
Brady Skjei (76) - Dougie Hamilton (19)
Jake Gardiner (51) - Brett Pesce (22)
Haydn Fleury (4) - Jake Bean (24)
Petr Mrazek (34)
James Reimer (47)
Keys to the Game
Contrast in Styles. Carolina will look to dominate offensive zone time. The Stars will need to exploit this with speed to score off of the rush. Denis Gurianov time?
Special Teams. Okay, we all know what a historic run the Stars’ power play is on. Throwing Klingberg and Heiskanen together on the top unit is a calculated risk, and it’s paid off so far — but that second unit is pieces and parts. The penalty kill saw too much action in the last game against Detroit, and if the team chases the game against Carolina, it will again on tonight.
Unknown hero. The known hero would be a netminder who stands on his head. With the AHL season fast approaching and a bevy of kids looking to stick with the NHL club, this game is a great opportunity for a player down the lineup to show that he belongs.
One final note. Forty-eight games in overall, and the Central Division has seen nine games go to overtime. The Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes have been involved in one each, both ending in victory. Pulling out loser points, especially on the road, it going to be pivotal when it comes to the final standings.