High-Event Oilers Swing Through Dallas

After a dominating showing in Nashville, the FCC line faces a McDavid/Draisaitl challenge.

Sometimes you have to throw the analytics out. If you look at the shooting metrics for the Dallas Stars in their Saturday night victory over the Nashville Predators, you’d have to conclude that the Predators blew out the Stars. Some of that could be attributed to score effects, but the shot-share dominance really happened over all three periods.

Watching the game, however, there was never really a feeling that Nashville was in control of anything. Power play excepted, Dallas appeared to get the shots that they wanted, and after Blake Comeau buried his shorthanded wrister coming down the wing, the Stars never seemed to lose control of the game. The Predators just never put anything consistently dangerous together, even during a third period where they dominated basic shooting metrics by a margin of 32-6.

For Stars fans, this game was a fun one to watch. NBC will be disappointed if this happens at the Cotton Bowl for the Winter Classic.

A few stray thoughts after the win:

The “Big Three” are a great line for road games. They neutralize the opponent’s top defensive pair, which opens up the game for the other lines. It doesn’t show as dominant on the scoresheet, but it is an important factor to road success for the Stars.

With Mattias Janmark out of the lineup with an upper body injury, Justin Dowling slotted in on the second line. Whether it was the rust of missing a few games, or his not being able to match Nashville’s physical game, Dowling never looked comfortable on the ice and made several uncharacteristic mistakes.

Corey Perry has been getting some great chances recently, but nothing is coming from them. If Jason Dickinson’s numbers end up being bad this year, look to the swath of times where Dickinson has set the table only to see a lack of finish.

I haven’t made a systematic pass through this, but my eyes tell me that since their brief losing streak at the end of November, the Stars defenders and supporting forwards have been better coordinated when a defender pinches at the point.

This is the second of three meetings between the Edmonton Oilers and the Stars this year. On November 16 in Edmonton, Dallas pulled out a 5-4 overtime win on a goal by Jamie Benn after Tyler Seguin evened it up with under two minutes to play in regulation.

The first thing to remember about the Oilers is their top line, especially Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Each has 20 goals on the season, and combined they have 113 points. Both are averaging more than 22 minutes of time on ice per game. To put it mildly, Dave Tippett is riding his superstar players.

A big part of the team’s scoring is on the power play, where they’ve scored 33 goals with the man advantage. They boast a league-leading 32.35 power play percentage. James Neal leads the team with 10 power play goals (just two short of Roope Hintz’s 12 all situation goals, which leads the Stars).

The Oilers have a better road record on the year than they do at home, but given the top-heavy nature of their scoring, having last change should give a home team a decided advantage. In Edmonton, Tippett put the McDavid line out against the Tyler Seguin line: strength against strength. Expect Rick Bowness to match the Radek Faksa line up against McDavid and Draisaitl.

Defensively, Edmonton is young, but they have a solid core for the future. Diminutive 22-year-old Ethan Bear has been a pleasant surprise as a 2015 fifth-round pick, and paired with a physical Darnell Nurse, they make a complimentary top pair. Adam Larsson is back from injury, and paired with fellow Swede Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton has a quality top-four.

In net, Edmonton splits duties between 1A Mikko Koskinen and 1B Mike Smith. Koskinen took the loss in the first game against the Stars, but his numbers on the year have been decidedly better than Smith.

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)

Edmonton Oilers Lineup

In an effort to offer two scoring lines, the Oilers plan to split up the McDavid/Draisaitl pairing, at least for the start of the game against the Stars. Joakim Nygard draws in on the left side of the first line.

Joakim Nygard (10) - Connor McDavid (97) - Zack Kassian (44)
James Neal (18) - Leon Draisaitl (29) - Sam Gagner (89)
Jujhar Khaira (16) - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) - Alex Chiasson (39)
Gaetan Haas (91) - Riley Sheahan (23) - Josh Archibald (15)

Darnell Nurse (25) - Ethan Bear (74)
Oscar Klefbom (77) - Adam Larsson (6)
Caleb Jones (82) - Kris Russell (4)

Mikko Koskinen (19)

Keys to the Game

Stay out of the box. The Edmonton power play is deadly. Period.

McDavid line versus Faksa line. The Oilers want to force the action while the Stars want to enforce structure. If Edmonton can open up the Dallas gap, it could be a long night, but if the Stars can force turnovers off of the Oilers’ speed, their counterattack could be deadly.

Jujhar Khaira. I don’t know why, but every time he plays against the Stars, something bad happens. He’s scored 18 career goals, three of which have come at the expense of Dallas.

Did you know?

The Edmonton Oilers are on the hook for $8 million for the buyout of Andrej Sekera over the next four years.

Also, eight of the 14 roster forwards for the Oilers are set to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the year, so this is a team that could look completely different come this time next year.