Dallas Stars Morning Skate: Elite Swedish Defensemen Bonanza Against Ottawa Senators
John Klingberg and Erik Karlsson spar for the title of best offensive defensemen in the league, and Antti Niemi stays in net for the Stars.
They were born about 225 miles and 26 months apart, and they really aren't built that similarly. One is a solid 6-foot, 190 pounds and the other a quite willowy 6-3, "180."
But watch Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars play hockey and you'd swear they were cut from the exact same mold.
"Almost everything, really," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said when asked about the similarities between the two elite offensive defensemen on display tonight at the American Airlines Center. "It really is an easy comparison because their stickhandling and skating style, their ability to get up ice, their ability to make plays. They're both real special players. When you watch them play, sometimes I think if the jerseys were switched, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart."
Their statistics this season are eerily similar. Klingberg has 23 points in his 21 games with four goals and a league-leading 19 assists. Karlsson isn't far behind with 22 points in 20 games of his own, including 17 assists. Both have a shooting percentage of absurdly-high-for-defensemen 10.0 percent. Karlsson gets more offensive zone starts, but Klingberg does more of his scoring on the power play.
The biggest difference in the two, at least a quarter of the way into this season, is probably the contract. Karlsson is a great value at a $6.5 million cap hit through 2018-19. Klingberg, however, is an absurd value at a $4.25 million cap hit through 2021-22.
All hail Jim Nill.
As far as tonight's game, Klingberg skated with his usual partner Alex Goligoski at Tuesday's pregame skate, but the bottom two pairs were shuffled because of a lower-body injury to Jason Demers. Demers did skate with the team, but the first rotation of defensemen left him out and put Jordie Benn with Johnny Oduya and Jyrki Jokipakka with Jamie Oleksiak.
Even if Demers isn't quite ready to go tonight, it is a great sign that he's skating after the coaching staff was initially concerned he'd be out for a longer period of time.
(Side note - the only sad thing about not needing the annual Goligoski reset scratch this season is that this team has not yet iced a defensive corps of John, Johnny, Jason, Jordie, Jyrki and Jamie this season despite having the opportunity.)
The forwards looked to be the same as last game with the scariest, best-looking line in the NHL leading the way and Ales Hemsky on the fourth line while and Patrick Eaves up with Jason Spezza and Mattias Janmark.
Lines may very well get bounced around within the game - for what it's worth, it looked like Eaves may have jumped onto the first-unit power play briefly against the Sabres as Ruff tried to get them going - but regardless of how the players line up, the most important thing the players have shown so far is their ability to work through whatever lineup or challenge has been thrown at them.
"Consistency is tough in this league, and that's what we've talked about having to improve on," Spezza said. "We've done a good job so far of not getting in to losing streaks, and we've done a good job of kind of halting our play when we haven't played well for a few periods, and we've had great goaltending that's allowed us to grow throughout games."
On that goaltending note, Antti Niemi will make his second consecutive start after posting a shutout over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. The Stars have rotated their goalies pretty evenly this season, but Niemi was strong when he needed to be against the Sabres and was able to hold a one-goal lead for most of the game, so it makes sense to reward him with another start heading into a two-day break.
Here's some more quotes from Lindy in moving pictures, including a bit on the constantly updating goalie rotation: