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Stars Look to Reverse Trends Against Blackhawks

Without half of their elder statesmen line, the Dallas Stars struggled to score in the first game of their two-game series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Joe Pavelski started the game with Jamie Benn and Ty Dellandrea on the wings, and to put things mildly, it didn’t work. The line generated no scoring chances, no expected goals; literally no shots on net.

It pushed head coach Rick Bowness into activating the line mixer, which at least led to Jason Robertson joining Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov in, by far, his best NHL game to date.

The FCC line put up solid numbers, sucking the excitement out of both ends of the ice, predictably leading to a low-scoring affair. It’s what they do, and they do it well. Radek Faksa was even able to pull off his first assist of the year, winning a hard-fought corner battle opened up a feed to Miro Heiskanen at the point for the shot that led Robertson’s tally.

It’s easy to complain about the disappearing Dallas offense, but to be fair, the team has taxi squad players filling in and several have delivered above expectation.

If nothing else, Alexander Radulov’s unhealthy scratch demonstrated his value to the team through his absence. At even-strength, Radulov and Pavelski have been on the ice for six of the Stars’ 13 5-on-5 goals, which becomes even more impressive when you consider that they’ve pitched a shutout at the other end. The rest of the team is a -5, scoring seven while giving up 12.

Not to harp on this too much, but half of that time is with Tenner Kero on the left wing (no disrespect to Kero, who has been a pleasant surprise so far this year). One gets the feeling that you could pull a cardboard cutout from the stands and Pavelski-Radulov would still make it work.

But enough of good news.

What is going on with Hintz and Gurianov? There are decent numbers on the power play, and Hintz has been workable on the penalty kill. Outside of the power play, however, offensively it’s been a disaster.

Gurianov has three assists, all secondary and all against the Detroit Red Wings. One was a defensive zone bump to John Klingberg that led to Jason Dickinson’s overtime winner. The second literally was getting the puck knocked off of his stick straight to Justin Dowling. Turnaround, fire from distance, and an Andrew Cogliano rebound goal. The last was a high flip to center ice. Dickinson bumps to Dowling who fires into an empty net — assist number three.

Yes. Three assists, two of which were defensive zone touches and the third a puck fumble.

Maybe adding Robertson to the line is the answer, although that leaves some defensive concerns. Alternatively, maybe bring back Jamie Benn on the wing — which was something that the team was excited about at the start of the season.

Until Dallas starts getting players back from injury, the team that we saw in the first game against the Blackhawks on Sunday may be the team that we get. Lockdown defense, with an opportunistic counter attack and a hearty dose of excellent goaltending.

Also, per Mike Heika, Andrej Sekera and Joel Kiviranta are game-time decisions and Radulov is day-to-day, but decidedly out for tonight’s game. As such, these lines are a combination of a wish list and what I think might work.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jamie Benn (14) – Joe Pavelski (16) – Justin Dowling (37)
Jason Robertson (21) – Roope Hintz (24) – Denis Gurianov (34)
Andrew Cogliano (11) – Radek Faksa (12) – Blake Comeau (15)
Tanner Kero (64) – Jason Dickinson (18) – Nicholas Caamano (17)

Esa Lindell (23) – John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) – Miro Heiskanen (4)
Joel Hanley (44) – Mark Pysyk (13)

Anton Khudobin (35)

Chicago Blackhawks Lineup

Mattias Janmark (13) – Philipp Kurashev (23) – Patrick Kane (88)
Alex DeBrincat (12) – Dylan Strome (17) – Dominik Kubalik (8)
Brandon Hagel (38) – Carl Soderberg (34) – Pius Suter (24)
Matthew Highmore (36) – David Kampf (64) – Andrew Shaw (65)

Calvin De Haan (44) – Connor Murphy (5)
Duncan Keith (2) – Ian Mitchell (51)
Nikita Zadorov (16) – Adam Boqvist (27)

Kevin Lankinen (32)

Keys to the Game

Transition Game. The Blackhawks like to stretch the rink. On Sunday, the Stars did a good job of containing Chicago’s vertical stretch passing, but the Blackhawks were able to open things up by moving the puck quickly from east to west through the neutral zone. The Stars will want to clog that up, driving their counter attack. In addition, Gurianov and Hintz are due for a transition game breakout.

The Crease. “One and done” was the call of the day in their first game of the series. The Stars need to hold their own in front of the Blackhawks’ young goaltender.

The mixing straw. Alexander Radulov creates chaos on the ice. With him out of the lineup, Dallas tends to predictability — but predictability doesn’t play to the Star’s strength in the offensive zone. Is there somebody who can speed up the game for the Chicago defense?