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Stars Face Another Central Battle as Blackhawks Come to Dallas

At a certain point, when everything is breaking the right way, fans need to just sit back and enjoy the moment.

For me, this year’s Dallas Stars have reached that point. In my mind, I know that the winning streak will end and we’ll be back to hockey as usual. These types of streaks don’t happen often, so for now, it’s just a whole lot of fun to watch.

Recently, I finished re-reading Showtime, a book by former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Pat Riley. On its face, it’s the story of one of the most successful basketball teams of the 1980’s. Below the surface, it’s a book about managing success; a litany of the different ways that the seeds of defeat are found in winning and what a coach can do about it.

Dallas is going to lose at some point. The challenge is to not lose for the wrong reasons. Bad bounces and elite-level plays will beat a team. So will loose play and not putting everything into individual board battles. As long as the Stars continue to press play and take away time and space for their opponents, they will win more often than they will lose, but the team needs to focus on the small things that brought on the success.

The big question(s) going into this matchup with Chicago is whether John Klingberg and Roope Hintz will return to the lineup.

The defense has held up strong in Klingberg’s absence, with Miro Heiskanen showing himself as a true number one defender. All defenders drawing in have proven capable, with several playing beyond expectations. The one primary area where Klingberg has been sorely missed is running the first power play unit — the one part of the game where the Stars have struggled during their winning streak.

Secondary scoring has been a pleasant surprise, especially during Hintz’s absence. Hintz back on the second line just adds to the scoring balance that the Stars have shown.

Who draws out when each returns is an interesting question. It’s also a luxury that Dallas hasn’t had in many years. The Stars are likely going to scratch players who have earned a place in the lineup as they get healthier.

The Chicago Blackhawks finished last season making a run at a Wild Card spot, primarily by running an offense-first strategy. During the offseason, they brought in several experienced defenders to try to plug holes on the back end.

Scoring for Chicago is down a full third of a point per game. Patrick Kane leads the team in scoring with 11 goals, but nobody else on the team has more than six. They are still dangerous with their two top lines, but the lone bright spot in their bottom six is 18-year-old rookie Kirby Dach.

Defensively, the Blackhawks have loaded up on borderline second and third-pair veterans. Individually, there isn’t much creativity on the blue line. There also isn’t much settled, with the pairings being a tangled spiderweb. In their last game, they went with seven defenders.

In net, the Blackhawks have gone with a 1A/1B setup with Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. They have been alternating starts for the last six games, both having played in 11 games for the year. Lehner has the better numbers so far, and with Crawford taking the loss on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, this game sets up as a Lehner start.

Dallas Stars Lineup

The availability of Hintz and Klingberg will be known after warmup, with the coaching staff reportedly hoping to have both as options tonight. Until we know the final lineup for certain, the Stars could look something like this, with Taylor Fedun and Denis Gurianov the expected scratches:

Jamie Benn (14) – Justin Dowling (37)-  Tyler Seguin (91)
Alexander Radulov (47) – Roope Hintz (24) – Joe Pavelski (16)
Andrew Cogliano (11) – Radek Faksa (12) – Blake Comeau (15)
Mattias Janmark (13) – Jason Dickinson (18) – Corey Perry (10)

Esa Lindell (23) – John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) – Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) – Roman Polak (45)

Antoin Khudobin in net.

Chicago Blackhawks Lineup

Brandon Saad (20) – Jonathan Toews (19) – Alex Nylander (92)
Alex DeBrincat (12) – Dylan Strome (17) – Patrick Kane (88)
Ryan Carpenter (22) – David Kampf (64) – Zack Smith (15)
Andrew Shaw (65) – Kirby Dach (77) – Drake Caggiula (91)

Duncan Keith (2) – Calvin De Haan (44)
Slater Koekkoek (68) – Brent Seabrook (7)
Olli Maatta (6) – Erik Gustafsson (56)

Robin Lehner (40)

Keys to the Game

Don’t back off. Keep up the pressure.

Watch stretch passes. Last year, Chicago set up multiple dangerous chances by flying a forward for breakaways.

Chicago is not fast on the blue line. Use speed when entering the zone.

This could be an uncharacteristically open game. Don’t get caught playing pond hockey.

Did You Know?

Blackhawks fans have been growing progressively more critical of head coach Jeremy Colliton. There is some evidence that the frustration is working its way into the room.

Talking Points