Gameday Preview: Stars Three-Game Homestand Begins with Coyotes

After a brutal first half of February, Dallas got a needed day off. Expect a physical, checking matchup against Arizona as Dallas looks to clean up their defensive game.

The Dallas Stars were uncharacteristically sloppy in their last game, the third in four nights on a trip through eastern Canada. They were able to salvage a point to end the trip with five out of a possible six points, but they didn’t look particularly good in doing so.

Offensively, the Stars continued to show signs of life, getting another three-goal effort, with contributions coming in from a variety of sources. John Klingberg and Stephen Johns both hit the net, and the defense appears to be activating more in the offensive zone, so this may be the beginning of a new dynamic for the Stars’ offense.

Meanwhile, Dallas is still getting contributions from all four forward lines, and have hit a stretch where they are getting to three goals on a regular basis. The power play has a lot to do with that, and both units are creating chances, at least once they find a way into the zone.

Defensively, the game against the Ottawa Senators was an anomaly. Ottawa scored off of defensive breakdowns, either missed assignments or sticks that were inexplicably available for rebounds in the crease. Probably more related to mental and physical fatigue than anything.

February was always going to be a tough month, given the number of road games and quality opponents. Halfway through, Dallas has survived, and even thrived. The second half of the month is no less daunting, and tonight’s Arizona Coyotes game is perhaps the one remaining game that isn’t a premier matchup.

In past years, this type of game coming after a road trip would be considered a trap game. This year’s Stars have, for the most part, just taken care of business. If you’re looking for a high-flying offensive affair, this probably won’t be your game. Expect both teams to let defense lead to offense, with the game decided in the third period or extra time.

It has been two months since Arizona traded for Taylor Hall. At that time, the team was sitting near the top of the Pacific Division, and the anticipation was that bringing in Hall would solidify the Coyotes’ playoff position, and perhaps even give them a chance to make a run through the Western Conference.

That scenario hasn’t quite played as envisioned, and much like the team’s acquisition of Phil Kessel, the expected boost in goal-scoring has failed to materialize. Arizona remains a defense-first group, and their offense does just enough to win games. The team is on the playoff bubble in a notably weak Pacific Division, which makes them both vulnerable and dangerous.

Offensively, the Coyotes have two main lines that score, but their second line can be a defensive liability. They do have talent spread throughout their four lines, and with this being the first of a back-to-back for the team, expect Arizona to roll them all. In a sense, this is a team that plays much like the Stars, but with slightly less offensive talent.

Defensively, Arizona is reliant on their top two pairs. Niklas Hjalmarsson is back from injury, taking on a defensive defender role with Oliver Ekman-Larsson on their shutdown first pair. Alex Goligoski is with Jakob Chychrun in a more offensive-oriented second pair.

In net, Antti Raanta is also back from injury and has been carrying the load of late. Darcy Kuemper is close to returning from a lower-body injury that has kept him out since December 19. Adin Hill has been holding his spot, and has not looked great in limited action as the replacement backstop. The Coyotes face the Stars and St. Louis Blues in back-to-back games, so if Raanta doesn’t play in both, one team could have a decided advantage.

Dallas Stars Lineup

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

Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Miro Heiskanen (4) - Stephen Johns (28)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Andrej Sekera (5)

Ben Bishop (30)

Arizona Coyotes Lineup

Late note - Adin Hill in net for Coyotes

Taylor Hall (91) - Christian Dvorak (18) - Conor Garland (83)
Lawson Crouse (67) - Derek Stepan (21) - Phil Kessel (81)
Clayton Keller (9) - Nick Schmaltz (8) - Vinnie Hinostroza (13)
Carl Soderberg (34) - Brad Richardson (15) - Christian Fischer (36)

Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) - Niklas Hjalmarsson (4)
Jakob Chychrun (6) - Alex Goligoski (33)
Jordan Oesterle (82) - Ilya Lyubushkin (46)

Adin Hill (31)

Keys to the Game

Special Teams. In a tight checking, low-scoring game, the team that takes advantage when it has the advantage has a big leg up. Arizona has a top-five penalty kill, but the Dallas power play has been hot. That one extra goal could be the difference.

Energy. Dallas had a day off, but needs to bounce back from a lethargic effort the last time out. Arizona faces travel and a back-to-back and will be looking to get out in front of this game. If the Stars match the early push, they should have the advantage in the third period.

Goaltending. Bishop is in the Vezina Trophy conversation, and Raanta has been carrying the load and keeping the Coyotes in the playoff race. Either one could steal this game.