Late Start Saturday as Stars Face Islanders

After 14 straight games against the Western Conference, Dallas face their Eastern Conference doppleganger.

Without Alexander Radulov on the ice, the officials in Thursday night’s Dallas Stars-Winnipeg Jets game seemed a bit out of sorts. Calls were made, somewhat randomly. Jets fans, not used to seeing calls go against them, seemed to think that there was an extra Star on the ice wearing stripes.

It confused the Stars so much that they potted two goals on the power play, even if they did waste a good double minor-worth of man advantage for Mark Scheifele’s mild objection.

Thursday’s game was somewhat atypical for Dallas, with the exception of solid netminding and secondary scoring on the rush.

The Stars cycled the puck. Not just once, but often. It also wasn’t just the Radek Faksa line, although they effectively used it against the Winnipeg top line to keep them pinned in their defensive zone. The only group that consistently gave up chances for the game was the Jamie Benn - Justin Dowling - Tyler Seguin line, paired with Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen. The game report on NaturalStatTrick shows the significant disparity.

One issue with the Stars’ cycle game: they still haven’t learned how to score off of it. The only current Star who seems to thrive in the environment is Corey Perry, and he hasn’t been consistently finishing. That leaves counterattacks from neutral zone turnovers plus speed/stretch passes as the primary threats for the team when at even strength. Thirty games into the season, that just may be this team’s offensive identity.

Defensively, separating Lindell and John Klingberg did not appear to work. On the other hand, Jamie Oleksiak was back to his reliable self when getting third-pair minutes and matchups. With the New York Islanders and then the New Jersey Devils at American Airlines Center for the next two games, Taylor Fedun will likely draw in for at least one game, but if it is only one game, the Devils might be the better matchup.

UPDATE: Fedun and Dowling are the scratches based on morning skate.

At a high level, the stats for the Islanders are sneaky similar to those of the Stars. Both teams have one player in double digits in goals and nine players in double digits for points. Both teams roll four lines, play stingy defense, and back that all up with superior goaltending.

Head coach Barry Trotz has his team playing to their strengths and they are second in a tough Metropolitan Division. This year’s team has not been as solid a possession team as last year’s, but they have made up for it by burying their chances.

Mathew Barzal leads the team in scoring, and along with Brock Nelson, gives the Islanders a solid one-two punch down the middle. What’s helped this team to their spot in the standings is the play of Derick Brassard, whom New York brought in on a $1.2 million show-me contract. He has parlayed that deal into seven goals and 10 assists, while teaming up with Anders Lee to  give the Islanders a productive additional line. Throw in Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck on a fourth line, and the Islanders don’t have any obvious weaknesses up front.

Defensively, the Islanders have size and structure. They’ve also stayed healthy, with all of their top four playing in every game this year. Interestingly, New York has kept 2018 12th overall pick Noah Dobson as their healthy scratch, getting him into only seven games to date. Dobson is slide eligible on the first year of a contract out of Quebec Major Juniors, so the Islanders may just been getting him extended practice time with the NHL club before deciding whether to burn a year on his entry-level deal. Would the Stars do this with Thomas Harley next year?

In net, the Islanders replaced Robin Lehner with Semyon Varlamov and have not missed a beat. Varlamov has been alternating games with Thomas Greiss all year, so if form holds true, Greiss will get the start against Dallas. Both netminders have been solid, with flashes of spectacular.

Dallas Stars Lineup

At morning skate Saturday, the lines looked like this:

Jamie Benn (14) -  Tyler Seguin (91) - Mattias Janmark (13)

Alexander Radulov (47) - 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)

New York Islanders Lineup

Anders Lee (27) - Derick Brassard (10) - Jordan Eberle (7)
Ross Johnston (32) - Mathew Barzal (13) - Josh Bailey (12)
Anthony Beauvillier (18) - Brock Nelson (29) - Leo Komarov (47)
Matt Martin (17) - Casey Cizikas (53) - Cal Clutterbuck (15)

Adam Pelech (3) - Ryan Pulock (6)
Devon Toews (25) - Scott Mayfield (24)
Nick Leddy (2) - Johnny Boychuk (55)

Thomas Greiss (1)

Keys to the Game

Score first. The last time that Dallas played in a game where the team that scored first didn’t win was in October — the Stars’ 6-3 comeback victory against the Minnesota Wild. Don’t fight the trend.

Defensive zone turnovers. Against the Jets, the Stars coughed up the puck at an alarming rate, giving Winnipeg multiple unopposed chances at the net. The last Dallas defender can’t get above the puck.

Special teams. Both teams play low -event, outside-in hockey. Taking advantage of the man advantage is vital.

Did you know?

The Stars played the Islanders on December 23 last year, and an awkward collision with Cal Clutterbuck put a final end to Martin Hanzal’s 673-game NHL career. Dallas fans didn’t get to see Hanzal at his best, but he was a gamer and a great guy.