Stars Snowbird Their Way to Florida for Showdown with Lightning

This year, Tampa Bay has had their troubles, at least in the standings. Other than that, not much has changed with last years Presidents’ Trophy group.

Going down early and facing a hot netminder, the Dallas Stars reverted to form on Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers. They pushed the action, with Tyler Seguin ultimately breaking his extended goalless streak with 2:37 left in the third period. In the end, there just wasn’t enough there to pick up any points.

The bounces didn’t go the Stars’ way, and Mikko Koskinen swatted away a Corey Perry shot on the right post, just like he had earlier to a Alexander Radulov shot at the left post. Exceptional goaltending wins games, even more so for teams playing the low-scoring Stars.

Looking at shot share, Dallas certainly sent a lot of rubber at the Edmonton net, and even if you look at expected goals, the Stars come out looking decent. This is especially true after Edmonton went up 2-0.

Drilling down to the details, the push came from all lines, with the exception of the fourth, which faced a constant onslaught of shots, no matter who was on the ice against them.

For a team with the depth that the Stars have demonstrated, and after several games of under-performance, the line of Denis Gurianov, Jason Dickinson, and Corey Perry appears to be somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

The Roman Polak and Andrej Sekera pairing was also exposed, at least when up against anybody other than the Oilers’ third line.

For the most part, the Stars’ top three lines performed well. A bit more finish would help, but some of that finish was stolen by Koskinen. If a change needs be be made, a swap of Mattias Janmark and Gurianov would be intriguing. Joe Pavelski’s body may not be able to keep up with Gurianov and Hintz, but his mind can, and this line has proven it in the past.

Adding Janmark’s tenacity to the fourth line would also remove some of the defensive burden from Dickinson, while still allowing for speed on at least one of the wings. Plus, Janmark has shown an ability to get his points regardless of his linemates.

This year’s Tampa Bay Lightning are a bit of a conundrum. They are in the top 10 in scoring, second in power play percentage, and even though they are scoring more than they’re giving up, they are in fifth place in the Atlantic Division — currently outside of a playoff position.

Some of that is due to games played. The Lightning are tied with the New York Islanders in least number of games played at 32. With games in hand, Tampa Bay should probably be considered the second place team.

High expectations have made the Lightning’s start to the season seem disappointing, and combined with an early playoff exit in the spring, there just seems to be a malaise surrounding the team. Statistically, the one area that is suffering is goaltending, where Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy numbers have slid significantly. His goals against average is up almost half a goal and his save percentage is hovering just above .900.

One area to pay attention to is special teams. Tampa Bay is in the top five in both penalty minutes drawn and penalty minutes taken. Given that they have the second best power play in the league, this game sets up as another challenge for the Dallas penalty kill.

With the expectations and the talent, concerns have been expressed about the direction of the team. There are probably quite a few teams throughout the league that would just love to have the Lightning’s problems.

Offensively, the Lightning are skilled, deep, but not overly big. Twenty-seven percent of their scoring is on the power play (for reference, the Stars are at 18 percent). Keep them at even strength, and they have depth issues. Pay attention to Nikita Kucherov and his reaction to being benched in his last game against the Ottawa Senators.

Defensively, they are big and physical. Victor Hedman is perennially in the Norris Trophy conversation, and Kevin Shattenkirk has fit in well, getting third-pair responsibilities.

Vasilevskiy takes most of the starts, but he usually doesn’t play more than four games in a row. Backup Curtis McElhinney has been less than spectacular so for this year. After morning skate, it looks like Vasilevskiy will make this his fifth start in a row.

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)

Anton Khudobin (35)

Tampa Bay Lightning Lineup

Ondrej Palat (18) - Brayden Point (21) - Nikita Kucherov (86)
Alex Killorn (17) - Anthony Cirelli (71) - Steven Stamkos (91)
Patrick Maroon (14) - Cedric Paquette (13) - Yanni Gourde (37)
Carter Verhaeghe (23) - Tyler Johnson (9) - Mitchell Stephens (67)

Victor Hedman (77) - Jan Rutta (44)
Ryan McDonagh (27) - Erik Cernak (81)
Mikhail Sergachev (98) - Kevin Shattenkirk (22)

Andrei Vasilevskiy (88)

Keys to the Game

Special teams. Taking penalties against the top power play in the league didn’t work against the Oilers. No reason to think that it would against the team ranked second for the power play.

Business as usual. Scoring went away against the Oilers. The last time this happened, the team went into a 0-3-1 tailspin. There is no need to panic, just get out there and play the game.

Physicality. As long as it happens in the flow of the game, the Lightning forwards are susceptible to defenders taking the body and an aggressive forecheck. Unless the referees are calling things tight, the Stars should use their physical edge.

Did you know?

Tampa Bay’s top seven forwards are all under contract for the next three years, and five of them have no-trade or no-move clauses in their contracts. Two defenders fall into the same category. Barring big moves, the core of this team is settled well into the future, but things could get extremely interesting when it’s time for the Seattle expansion draft.