Why the Stars Shouldn’t Try and “Get Physical” Against Nashville
tl;dr Maybe you don’t need to play Brett Ritchie just yet
As you’re most likely aware by now, Dallas Stars forward Jason Dickinson exited Wednesday’s Game 1 against the Nashville Predators after this hit by Brian Boyle:
Brian Boyle welcomes Jason Dickinson to the playoffs with a massive hit pic.twitter.com/jJrjkYGoLT— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) April 11, 2019
It was a clean hit — Dickinson himself admitted as much the next day — that unfortunately led to an apparent injury. Thankfully, Dickinson turned out to be all right. He passed concussion protocol, and was able to return to the game during the second period.
That hit, however, was just a sign of things to come. Colton Sissons took a goaltender interference penalty for running into Ben Bishop (who was subsequently called for embellishment). Several top Stars players such as Mats Zuccarello and Miro Heiskanen had to take some hits. It got to the point where John Klingberg — yes, that John Klingberg — felt he had to push back against the Predators.
Klingberg wasn't a fan of Arvidsson's... theatrics, I guess? pic.twitter.com/jDXjRq1J3v— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) April 11, 2019
Nashville finished the game with 24 hits compared to Dallas’ 14, and there’s little reason to believe they won’t stay physical heading into Game 2 tomorrow. As such, Dallas might be tempted to “beef up” their lineup with some bigger skaters like Brett Ritchie and/or Jamie Oleksiak. Show Nashville that they refused to get pushed around and can fight back too.
They don't need to do that.
This is exactly what the Predators want Dallas to do. They’re trying to get underneath the Stars’ skin, which is something that players like Brian Boyle and P.K. Subban are very good at. They want to get the Stars frustrated, to try and “get physical” with them, to put players like Ritchie up against their own top players to try and hit back.
And as soon as Dallas does that, they’ll be worse off for it. The Stars’ have scoring issues as-is — taking someone out in favor of a bottom-six grinder doesn’t help them in that department. If Jim Montgomery tries to put Ritchie and Oleksiak out against the Predators’ top six to try and knock some bodies around in retaliation, players like Viktor Arvidsson and and Filip Forsberg will eat them for breakfast. And since it's an away game, with the Predators getting the last change, Nashville might even choose to do just that.
Remember: the Stars won game one. The Predators acquired Boyle as well as Wayne Simmonds in part to give them a physical edge, and it didn’t make a difference in the first game (although Dickinson might quibble on that a bit). Instead, the Stars prevailed thanks to some Miro Heiskanen magic, a solid performance by Ben Bishop, and plays like this:
Esa Lindell doesn't have time for your fancy pants one-on-one moves, Viktor Arvidsson pic.twitter.com/ljzaWoYXlb— Robert Tiffin (@RobertTiffin) April 11, 2019
That’s the correct answer to Nashville’s physicality. Beat them with skill on the ice, not by trying to out-muscle them. It took a while for the Stars' top forwards to wake up yesterday — I mean did you see that first powerplay unit? — but once they did, they looked like the better team. If Tyler Seguin and co. start the game that way, then Dallas is in good shape.
And hey, if you’re a die-hard believer in “playoff hockey = physical hockey,” then watch the end of that clip. After his poke-check, Esa Lindell knocks Arvidsson off of his feet against the boards. That’s a good play by Lindell. I’m not saying the Stars shouldn’t deliver hits — they just don’t need to go out of their way to do so, especially not in lieu of offense. Goals send the biggest message of all.
In short, the Stars don’t need to overreact to the Boyle-Dickinson hit, or all of the others that came before or after it. Dallas just beat a Stanley Cup contender in Game 1 on the road, and they didn’t need to skew towards overtly physical hockey to do it.