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Gameday Preview: Predators in Must-Win Situation as Stars Head to Nashville

After a tough loss against the Edmonton Oilers, the Dallas Stars find themselves with three straight losses. For each of the last two, they have picked up a point, thanks to the ever popular loser point. Picking up points is great for making the playoffs, but single-point games are making it look more and more like the Stars will finish the season as the third-place team in the Central Division.

Dallas was strong on Tuesday night, which continues a trend over the last few weeks. Overall, the Stars are scoring at a decent rate and are still limiting goals against. The power play is scoring, although they still have some issues with zone entries.

The biggest area of concern is the penalty kill. The numbers haven’t been good, and perhaps more concerning, some holes have been showing up in coverage. At some point, it may deserve a deep dive into the film, but just a basic eye test shows that the coverage by the two forwards has been leaking dangerous shots. Mainly, opposing players are cycling to the top, receiving a pass, and taking the puck down to the circle without meeting resistance. That’s a danger area, and teams are exploiting it. And they’re scoring.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ goal on Tuesday night is a good example, and there have been others. The Stars have used rotating forwards at the top of the penalty kill all year, with good results early on. It allows for more dynamic and consistent pressure on the puck, but it also leaves the flanks vulnerable to quick puck movement.

If teams have figured out how to create dangerous chances this way, the Stars may need to evaluate some alternative penalty kill strategies, including a more conservative four-man box.

The Nashville Predators did some retooling during the offseason in an attempt to bring in forward depth. The goal was to create a dangerous second line, something that proved a fatal flaw in last year’s first-round playoff exit. For the most part, this has worked.

Nashville rolls three balanced lines, and each can be dangerous. They tend to use their fourth line as an energy line, getting limited minutes but bringing energy and an edge. In a way, this should be comforting to offense-starved Stars fans: nobody in the lineup has more than 18 goals on the year.

Roman Josi is far and away the best player on the Predators this year. Ryan Ellis has been reunited with him in the top pair after recovering from the injury that he sustained in the Winter Classic. As a top pair, they are good, mobile, and skilled, if not a bit undersized. The Predators’ second pair is defense-first, and with size.

What has destroyed Nashville this year is goaltending. Pekka Rinne has cratered, and Juuse Saros, after putting up great numbers as a backup, has not fully seized the job. Saros has been getting the majority of starts lately, but his results have been average at best.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Roman Polak did not participate in morning skate and didn’t make the trip while dealing with a family issue. Ben Bishop was on the ice, and Jake Oettinger was sent back to the Texas Stars.

Jamie Benn (14) – Tyler Seguin (91) – Corey Perry (10)
Roope Hintz (24) – Jason Dickinson (18) – Denis Gurianov (34)
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)

Anton Khudobin (35)

Nashville Predators Lineup

Nashville revamped their forward lines completely since their last game. Ryan Johansen draws back in after missing the teams last game as does Dan Hamhuis. Bonino line has been the one bright spot over the last few games, and that line stays intact.

Colton Sissons (10) – Ryan Johansen (92) – Calle Jarnkrok (19)
Filip Forsberg (9) – Matt Duchene (95) – Mikael Granlund (64)
Yakov Trenin (32) – Kyle Turris (8) – Viktor Arvidsson (33)
Rocco Grimaldi (23) – Nick Bonino (13) – Craig Smith (15)

Roman Josi (59) – Ryan Ellis (4)
Jarred Tinordi (24) – Mattias Ekholm (14)
Dan Hamhuis (5) – Dante Fabbro (57)

Juuse Saros (74)

Keys to the Game

Netminding. The Stars have thrived on consistently having the best goaltender on the ice. The last few games, that hasn’t held up. Dallas is due for a netminder to steal one.

Four rolling lines. Nashville gets last change, and so they’ll pick a good deal of the matchups. At least one of the Stars’ forward lines will be gifted a good matchup, and that line needs to take advantage.

Intangibles. The Stars knocked the Predators out of the playoffs last year, and have won the first two matchups this year. Dallas has their number — much like the St. Louis Blues seem to own the Stars. The team needs to keep the foot on the gas.

Did you know?

It’s getting to be that time of year — playoff odds. The Minnesota Wild are threatening to push out Nashville.