Stars’ Short Homestand Starts with Flames

Now that Dallas has one in the win column, it’s time to settle in and just start accruing points.

The Dallas Stars return home on tonight following a vital comeback victory against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night. After a slow and shaky start, the team returned to basics, with the top two lines controlling play in the crucial third period. The Stars even got some unexpected secondary scoring help from Nick Caamano, who potted his first NHL goal to put the Stars temporarily in the lead.

Part of what lead to Caamano’s goal was his rush partner, Andrew Cogliano. In that critical third period, head coach Jim Montgomery inserted Cogliano back onto a line to play with Caamano and Rhett Gardner. Given their success together, it will be difficult to separate the trio, at least until some of the Stars’ injured players return to the lineup.

That leaves Radek Faksa’s line in a bit of flux. With Blake Comeau out, and Cogliano finding a place with the two rookies, Faksa finds himself, at least temporarily, without steady partners.

It has been a tough start of the year for Faksa. He hasn’t been involved in any scoring plays — in fact, hasn’t been on the ice for any goals scored. At the same time, he’s been on the ice for seven of the 12 goals that the Stars have given up.

Four games in is no time to give up on the team’s shutdown center. At, if you drill down far enough, you can see details regarding not only a player’s isolated impact, but also the individual components of that impact. In Faksa’s case, he plays against the opponent’s top offensive players.

Two seasons ago, Faksa partnered with Antoine Roussel to create a tandem that dominated shot share and possession while on the ice. The normal third in that line was Brett Ritchie, and it was his last positive year as a Star.

Having players who know their role, and having players who can fit together playing those roles is one of the more difficult things for a coach to discern. Chemistry is hard to quantify. In Faksa’s case, he seems to be most successful when paired with a fast, ultra-aggressive winger on one side and a big bodied forward who goes hard to the boards on the other.

If the Stars stick with the first, second, and fourth lines as finished in Washington, that leaves three players to fit into a useful role with Faksa. Justin Dowling doesn’t work as either a power forward or a puck hound. As we’ve seen, Joel L’Esperance can certainly do a decent Ritchie immitation.

That leaves Denis Gurianov. It may not be a top-six role, but if he’s told to hit the ice running and attack the puck for 40 straight seconds, Gurianov could just pull it off and find a slot. It’s not going to happen tonight, but if Faksa’s line continues to have issues, it would be worth a try.

The Calgary Flames come to town scoring three goals a night — literally. After running away with the Pacific Division last year, they were quickly dispatched by the Colorado Avalanche. With the St. Louis Blues winning the Stanley Cup using size and physical play, Calgary turned into a team that figured they needed to bulk up in order to make it to the next level.

The Flames still have a young, skilled core, with a top line that is scoring at close to two goals a game. Throw in Matthew Tkachuk on the wing on the second line, and Calgary brings some high-end talent to the game.

Things start to break down on the third and fourth lines. Milan Lucic was brought in as a rich man’s Ryan Reaves, and what he lacks in foot speed he makes up for in general goonery. Amazingly, some in Calgary are willing to argue that the Flames won the Lucic/James Neal trade with Edmonton. The fourth line has distinguished itself by coughing up goals at a high rate in limited minutes.

On defense, the Flames bring some depth with offensive upside. Leading the way is Mark Giordano, who has been paired with an up-and-coming Rasmus Andersson. Travis Hamonic has supplanted T.J. Brodie on the right side of the second pair, joining Noah Hanifin as a lethal duo.

With Cam Talbot as backup, David Rittich has emerged as the Flames’ true number one in net.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Roope Hintz (24) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Justin Dowling (37) - Radek Faksa (12) - Joel L’Esperance (38)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Rhett Gardner (49) - Nicholas Caamano (17)

Esa Lindell (23) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) -John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Joel Hanley (39)

Ben Bishop (30)

Calgary Flames Lineup

Johnny Gaudreau (13) - Sean Monahan (23) - Elias Lindholm (28)
Matthew Tkachuk (19) - Mikael Backlund (11) - Sam Bennett (93)
Milan Lucic (17) - Derek Ryan (10) - Andrew Mangiapane (88)
Tobias Rieder (16) - Mark Jankowski (77) - Michael Frolik (67)

Mark Giordano (5) - Rasmus Andersson (4)
Noah Hanifin (55) - Travis Hamonic (24)
T.J. Brodie (7) - Michael Stone (26)

David Rittich (33)

Keys to the Game

I’m sure that everybody is tired of this, but for once, just once, Dallas needs to hit the ice ready to play.

The Stars have been scoring on the rush, but there has been little to show from the efforts to establish offensive zone possession. If the defense holds the blue line, the Stars need to coordinate their dump-and-chase attack with multiple players hitting the line with speed. If Calgary allows a gap, then Dallas needs to control the puck deep into the zone. Either way, keep the puck away from Calgary’s top two lines.

Play physically. The Stars have an advantage against the Flames if they take the body. Just don’t get caught retaliating against the handful of cheap shots that will likely show up.

Did you know?

Trade partners Milan Lucic and James Neal both lead the NHL in at least one category. Lucic leads the league in penalty minutes with 26. Neal leads the league in goals scored with six (four of which were in one game).