Playoffs Return to Dallas as Stars Face Predators (Game 3)

After going 1-1 in Nashville, the Stars return home. But did the Predators steal back series momentum with their 2-1 Game 2 victory?

When the team is the lower seed, I suppose fans shouldn’t complain too much when they make it back to their barn for Game 3 with the series all tied. And that is where the Dallas Stars find themselves going into their matchup with the Nashville Predators tonight.

Unfortunately, a lackluster Game 2 performance chipped away at much of the positivity that came out of a dominant Game 1 performance. Robert Tiffin hit most of the highlights in his Afterwords, and if Robert didn’t catch a detail, a chorus of Defending Big D readers did in the comments.

Over the last few weeks, the Dallas power play, especially the first unit, has solid numbers. Breaking down the success, there are quite a few examples of extraordinary individual effort leading to goals. In other words, sometimes numbers lie. Frankly, without Jason Spezza and the center drop pass, Dallas does not have a reliable way to get the power play set up in the offensive zone.

Say what you want about defensive effort and contribution, that his productivity has fallen off a cliff during the second half of the season or even the loss of a step or three. To be successful on the power play, a team needs to maximize zone time. And to maximize zone time, they actually need to enter the zone. If not Spezza, who? Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, take your pick. Nobody who is currently drawing in to the Dallas lineup seems to get the job done.

If you aren’t going to use the talent on the first line, let them run the same “throw rubber at the net” scheme that is working so well for the second unit. Special teams are a Dallas advantage in this series, but not if the first unit can’t get established in the offensive zone.

In Game 2, between special teams and injuries to Mattias Janmark and Wayne Simmonds, each team put out lines that were jumbled to some degree.

For Dallas, it meant that Jamie Benn joined Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov on the first line. As fans might expect, this trio performed well, showing a chemistry that they’ve developed over the last several years. Less successful, Mats Zuccarello joined Jason Dickinson and Roope Hintz on a second line that just didn’t do much.

Radek Faksa’s shutdown line stayed together, and both Nashville’s first and second lines dominated shot share and expected goals against them. The issues haven’t bled over onto the score sheet in a dramatic fashion as of yet, but at some point, getting dominated 80/20 on a regular basis will lead to pucks in nets. With last change and the ability of head coach Jim Montgomery to get the matchups he wants tonight, the Stars could make some adjustments to ensure that line doesn’t get torched on home ice tonight.

For Nashville, Game 2 had to bring a bit of relief, especially given the improved play of the Kyle Turris second line. Both top lines for the Predators were able to establish themselves against the Faksa line, and Calle Jarnkrok and Rocco Grimaldi came in and, in limited minutes, made a significant impact.

Coming out of Game 2, the Predators’ primary concern is likely the Bonino checking line, which, up against Seguin’s line, ended up on the wrong side of play to about the same extent that Faksa’s line did for the Stars.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jason Dickinson - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Roope Hintz - Mats Zuccarello
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Justin Dowling - Tyler Pitlick

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak - Ben Lovejoy

Ben Bishop

Zuccarello and Janmark did not participate in morning skate. On Zuccarello, as reported from morning skate:

Montgomery indicated the team was “hopeful” to use the same lineup as Games 1 and 2 with the exception of Oleksiak drawing into the lineup in place of Taylor Fedun. Janmark is reported to be an option tonight still. Hopefully these are just maintenance decisions for missing morning skate with the team not holding practice yesterday.

Nashville Predators Lineup

Filip Forsberg - Ryan Johansen - Viktor Arvidsson
Mikael Granlund - Kyle Turris - Craig Smith
Colton Sissons - Nick Bonino - Austin Watson
Miikka Salomaki - Calle Jarnkrok - Rocco Grimaldi

Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - P.K. Subban
Dan Hamhuis - Dante Fabbro

Pekka Rinne

Game Three Adjustments

It’s hard to believe that special teams will be as dominant in Game 3 as they were in Game 2. That means a re-emphasis on even-strength lines.

For the Stars, having two scoring lines has been successful, so expect that Benn, Seguin and Radulov will be back to being split.

I’d expect Dallas to bring back the reconstituted Seguin line against the Johansen line, a matchup that played to the Stars’ favor in the first game of the series. If the Faksa line can at least hold their own against the Turris line, that will give the Hintz line a chance to go straight up against the Bonino line. That matchup should be key to Game 3 success for the Stars.

One area to watch out for is the play of the Predators’ fourth line. Jarnkrok and Grimaldi were both able the find open ice in the second game, and Grimaldi in particular was able to take advantage of that space. The Stars’ fourth line has been little used and little noticed.

Both defenses have been as advertised and there isn’t much out there to think that will change. Likewise, Rinne and Bishop have been walls.

Keys to the Game

  • Faksa line versus Bonino line. They don’t play heads-up, but they’ve both been vulnerable. The side that can can exploit the opposition’s underperforming checking line has a major advantage. If you’d prefer to emphasize the positive, the Hintz line needs to outperform the Turris line.
  • Special teams. Nashville will take their physical game right up to the edge (and over). The Stars need to not overreact and retaliate, and if calls are made, they need to take advantage of their time on the power play.
  • Re-establish offensive zone pressure. The Predators did two things very well in the second game of the series. First, on the forecheck, they forced the Stars to work to get a clean zone exit. They didn’t necessarily cause turnovers, but when combined with neutral zone pressure, it forced the Stars into regular dump and change situations./

Saturday was ugly, but the Stars were a crossbar down and in away from a 2-0 series lead. As much as fans might want a more aggressive offensive game, team identity would indicate another tight checking, simple, up-the-boards kind of game. Dallas is the fourth seed in the Central, and most four seeds wouldn’t mind a coin flip series to see who moves on.