Avalanche Descend on Dallas for Division Showdown

The Stars needed a holiday break. Radulov is back, but can the team bounce back from its recent collapse?

Ben Bishop hasn’t won a game in net since his 2-0 shutout of the New Jersey Devils on December 10. That was also the first game behind the bench for interim head coach Rick Bowness.

Since then, Anton Khudobin has stolen a few points, but the Dallas Stars have mostly been skated off the ice by teams that brought more energy and grit. A previously stout penalty kill is suddenly giving up extended zone time and royal road passes (and goals).

When the Stars skated off the ice last Sunday after suffering a 5-1 defeat to the Calgary Flames, they looked like a group ready for a break.

Now that break is over.

Two games this weekend will show if Dallas reaped any benefit from the time off. For the players, there was time to be with family and friends and to give the accumulated wounds a bit of time to heal. For Rick Bowness, there was time for him to refine his thoughts on what he hopes to accomplish in his new job.

Bowness is a defensive-oriented coach, and having a dependable blue line is not out of character with this group. The season, including the disastrous 1-7-1 start, has shown that this team can not depend solely on shutting down its opponents. It was an offensive epiphany that brought the Stars back from the dead.

The players have said that they know how to play “Monty hockey” sans Montgomery. What’s shown up on the ice has been “Monty hockey” sans hockey, and without Jim Montgomery behind the bench, it’s unclear what this team is supposed to be.

The Stars have sandwiched some great hockey between two slices of defense-first ineptitude. Starting Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche, the heart of this team is going to be slowly revealed. There is some evidence out there about what works with this group and what doesn’t, but how that gets translated into “Bowness hockey” remains to be seen.

The Stars beat the Avalanche twice in early November, giving up just one goal in each game. Both games were played without Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen on Nathan MacKinnon’s wings. Throw those games out the window —this is a different and more dangerous team than the one Dallas faced two months ago.

Colorado scores in bunches. Over their last 10 games, the team has scored less that three goals twice — both defeats. On occasion, the Avalanche might lose a game of pond hockey, but if they find the back of the net with any regularity, they will win the game.

Rookie standout Cale Makar is back from a lower body injury, and should see top-pair time with Samuel Girard. With the Stars having last change, expect to see the Radek Faksa line up against that pair. The rest of the defense is large and somewhat slow, so look for Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov exiting the zone with speed.

Colorado is on the second game of a back-to-back set. Pavel Francouz was in net for Friday night’s 6-4 loss against the Minnesota Wild, so expect Phillipp Grubauer in net against Dallas. Francouz has been excellent as a backup, so the Stars may be catching a break with Grubauer in net.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Roope Hintz (24) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Denis Gurianov (34) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)

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

Ben Bishop (30)

Colorado Avalanche Lineup

Gabriel Landeskog (92) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Andre Burakovsky (95) - Nazem Kadri (91) - Joonas Donskoi (72)
Valeri Nichushkin (13) - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) - Matt Calvert (11)
Matt Nieto (83) - Tyson Jost (17) - J. T. Compher (37)

Samuel Girard (49) - Cale Makar (8)
Ryan Graves (27) - Erik Johnson (6)
Nikita Zadorov (16) - Ian Cole (28)

Philipp Grubauer (31)

Keys to the Game

Shake off the rust. The Stars have been off for six days while Colorado should have their game legs back after playing on Friday night. Getting behind early is a recipe for disaster against a potent offensive team like the Avalanche.

Play as a team. Colorado is going to attack the blue line with pace and skill. If the Stars don’t maintain a tight gap and get their high forward back, the Avalanche have the skill to create and finish in space.

Defensive zone exits. Over the last few games, Dallas has fallen back to the stretch pass as a frequent option for exiting the zone. This has led to turnovers and extended zone time — and to giving up goals. The Stars have the speed and skill to exit the zone with possession, especially against the Avalanche’s second and third defensive pairs.

Ben Bishop. The Stars’ No. 1 needs a game like a No. 1.