Playoff or Exhibition: Dallas Stars Take on Colorado Avalanche

If the Stars expect anything other than a fourth seed, they need to show up against Colorado.

When you’re in the middle of a drought, you don’t need a cloudburst. It doesn’t give the water time to sink in, and it’s more likely to create a flood than it is to help you grow anything. What you want is a steady stream of rain, so that it can soak in and saturate the ground.

In the middle of the second period of Monday night’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Dallas Stars experienced a five-minute cloudburst. Like a farmer waiting months for rain, they dropped everything, rushed outside, turned their faces skyward, relishing the feeling of moisture on their skin.

By the time they turned their attention back to the task at hand, Mark Stone began a flood of third-period goals that doomed the Stars to a disheartening loss to open their playoff campaign. Nothing about the third period sustained what transpired during that goal spurt in the second period. In the end, there is still an ongoing drought.

The debut of the team’s new line configuration, put together to extract more offense from the league’s worst five-on-five scoring lineup, left little to recommend it. For positives though, Miro Heiskanen and Jamie Oleksiak continued their development as a pair, with Heiskanen skating and moving the puck, and Oleksiak getting lost in the crease for a gorgeous bar-down wrister.

The Radek Faksa line was solid, which is a compliment and the intent. Everything else was serviceable, except for Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Denis Gurianov. As a trio they looked lethargic; skating without purpose. Certainly none of the chemistry that you would hope to see. Nothing justifying a continuation as the presumptive top line.

On defense, Esa Lindell had one of his worse games in memory, and that made John Klingberg’s performance suffer. Worse yet, the pairing of Andrej Sekera and Stephen Johns was a mess. They didn’t win board battles, they didn’t clear the crease, and they couldn’t facilitate zone exits.

The understanding was the Johns could add physicality and mobility to the pair, but that just didn’t pan out. Given the level of dysfunction, especially given the success of Heiskanen and Oleksiak, it might be worth giving Taylor Fedun a look. Someone on the third pair needs to be able to turn the puck up the ice.

While the Stars have a third-period collapse to deal with, the Avalanche have the euphoria of a photo finish, last-second victory over the St. Louis Blues. Like Dallas, Colorado has moved away from their “big three” line, thereby spreading the scoring talent throughout the lineup. This has created a team with two solid top-scoring lines, and two defensive/gritty lines. This creates matchup issues for teams with a shutdown pair, but should not be problematic for Dallas.

All of this sets up a game that should be a contrast of styles. During the regular season, it played out in the Stars’ favor — but in many ways, that was a lucky bounce here and there, not superior play.

Dallas Stars Lineup

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

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

Anton Khudobin (35)

Colorado Avalanche Lineup

Andre Burakovsky (95) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Gabriel Landeskog (92) - Nazem Kadri (91) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Vladislav Namestnikov (90) - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) - Joonas Donskoi (72)
Matt Calvert (11) - J.T. Compher (37) - Tyson Jost (17)

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

Pavel Francouz (39)

Keys to the Game

Stars Lines/Pairs. Something needs to change. Either the top line needs to play like a top line, or the Stars need to shuffle things up. Personally, I’d like to return to a more standard setup. This would be a good shuffle of the forward corps:

Benn - Seguin - Radulov  (Radulov pulls Benn/Seguin into the game.)

Hintz - Pavelski - Gurianov (All speed, and Pavelski’s mind can keep up.)

FCC (This isn’t going to change this year.)

Janmark - Dickinson - Perry (I’d like to see Joel Kiviranta here, but Perry scored, so he’s set.)

The fourth line is more of a special teams line, so Dallas would need to roll three lines, with the fourth line being situationally deployed. There is a lot of this setup that has worked in the past, and given the opportunity to settle in, this is a lineup that can score and defend.

On defense, Fedun should draw in. I’d play him with Oleksiak to maintain a balance on left- and right-handedness. Bring back Sekera with Johns against the Blues.

Commitment. A Stars loss on Wednesday and a Blues win on Thursday would lock in Dallas as the fourth seed. This is a game to decide whether Dallas is serious about this seeding round robin. As a fan, I’m ready for playoff hockey, but this team needs a reset, and that may be more important than seeding.

Khudobin. The whole team trusts him, but this is his first playoff start. However, this isn’t his first playoff action, and it’s an opportunity to show what he can do with a start.