Hottest team, hottest top line. Home cooking has been very good to the Dallas Stars over their last ten games, eight - all wins - of which have come at American Airlines Center. The Stars scored 3+ goals in all of those games and have given up a combined 11 goals at home during that span.
Those kinds of numbers are going to garner a bunch of points, and that’s exactly what has happened for the Stars. A terrible start has morphed into a position above the playoff cut.
It's not difficult to find reasons for the turnaround. Goaltending certainly is part of the story, as is the continued excellence of Miro Heiskanen and the rest of the blue line. Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, and Joe Pavelski have pulled in some national media recognition as one of the league’s top lines.
Throughout, the behind-the-scenes concerns have been about depth scoring. Admittedly, the combination of Jamie Benn with Alexander Radulov and Jacob Peterson looked great on Monday night against the Arizona Coyotes, but even if that isn’t a one-off thing, there is much to say about Tyler Seguin, Denis Gurianov, and the rest of the bottom six who have yet to find their niche with this team.
Teams that roll out one superline, or even a solid top six, can be shut down. The Stars' 4-1 domination of the Edmonton Oilers is just the most recent example.
Wednesday night's road game against the Vegas Golden Knights should be a gut check. Those home wins - and many of them against quality opponents - have the team back in the hunt. Can Dallas take that confidence on the road, where their opponents can bring focused attention to the Stars scorers and playmakers?
Vegas should be a good road test for the Stars. They are on a two-game winning streak, with their latest a 3-2 home win against the Calgary Flames. Vegas scores goals in bunches, but surprisingly, their power play has not seen much in the way of results.
Don’t be fooled. Expected goals for the Vegas power play are much better than the on-ice results, so some regression to the mean is to be expected. Even strength, the Golden Knights will roll three dangerous lines.
Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and William Karlson have all missed at least half of the team's games, which could indicate that the past performance of this team doesn’t reflect their potential. Robin Lehner in net has not been at the top of his form, with a record of 10-9 and a goals against/save percentage of 3.02/.910.
Defensively, Vegas is working in several inexperienced blue liners with Alec Martinez out after getting cut by a skate.
After a full month at home, the Stars should expect a challenge from Vegas in the first of a back-to-back set on Wednesday night.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jason Robertson (21) - Roope Hintz (24) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Jacob Peterson (40) - Jamie Benn (14) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Joel Kiviranta (25) - Luke Glendening (11) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Michael Raffl (18) - Radek Faksa (12) - Tyler Seguin (91)
Esa Lindell (23) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Ryan Suter (20) - John Klingberg (3)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Jani Hakanpaa (2)
Braden Holtby (70)
Vegas Golden Knights Lineup
Vegas morning skate was optional, so lineup is based on prior player usage.
Max Pacioretty (67) - Chandler Stephenson (20) - Mark Stone (61)
Jonathan Marchessault (81) - William Karlsson (71) - Reilly Smith (19)
Mattias Janmark (26) - Nicolas Roy (10) - Evgeni Dadonov (63)
William Carrier (28) - Keegan Kolesar (55) - Michael Amadio (22)
Nicolas Hague (14) - Alex Pietrangelo (7)
Shea Theodore (27) - Zach Whitecloud (2)
Brayden McNabb (3) - Dylan Coghlan (52)
Robin Lehner (90)
Keys to the Game
Top Three Lines. Vegas has gotten most of its forward depth back from injury. As a result, they can roll three lines and with home ice, they can set matchups. The Stars need either the Hintz line to continue their magic, or contributions further down the lineup.
Special Teams. Dallas has a top power play, and it’s shown up on the score sheet. Vegas has top-end talent on their power play, but the results have been disappointing to date. This should be a physical game, and the team that lives up to its potential with the man advantage should win.
The Road. There will be energy in the building, but it's not for the Stars. Dallas will need to readjust to a hostile crowd as they face a tough team and a tough building for the first time since Minnesota.