Physical Stars Look to Slow Down Panthers

The Stars evened up their three-game series against the Panthers when Anton Khudobin stole the second game.

The Dallas Stars got an early goal from John Klingberg at the start of a physical first period against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night. Dallas certainly looked better than they did in their opening game of the series, but in the end, it was Anton Khudobin who stole the show (and the full two points).

Hits aren’t much of a statistic, and by the end of the game, Florida outhit the Stars, but Dallas certainly set the tone in the opening period.

Playing a physical game is something that puts this team on its toes, and as long as they bring the hits as part of the flow of the game, it’s one of the things that makes up the their core character.

On Wednesday, it slowed Florida down early on, and helped turn the game into more of a slog than the Panthers would have preferred.

The big issue is whether that style of play is sustainable for the duration of a regular season, especially one that is as compact as the next two-plus months are going to be for the Stars.

Dallas is still without multiple key pieces among their forward group. Alexander Radulov continues to not skate, but could be back soon. Also absent is Roope Hintz, who missed the game on Wednesday with a lower-body injury.

That’s a key playmaker, plus one of the Stars’ biggest threats off of the rush.

Fortunately, Dallas has a reliable veteran who can fill both roles... Justin Dowling?

No. I’m not being facetious, and frankly, with the dearth of Dallas forwards who can put a pass on tape, Dowling should probably be seeing more game action — at least as long as Radulov is out.

With the top two lines as a mishmash of available players, Dallas showed that its depth lines can hold up fine. Rhett Gardner looked comfortable between Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau, and Dowling centering Jason Robertson and Nick Caamano dominated the Panther’s fourth line (just don’t strand them on the ice against Florida’s top six).

Let’s face it. This Stars team isn’t great. They’re missing veteran pieces, and until Khudobin rediscovered his dominant form in Sunrise this week, they haven’t been able to reliably win low-scoring, tight games.

When all of the key pieces are back, this is a Dallas Stars team that is built for playoff success. This was a common theme last year, and things haven’t changed for this season. Right now, the goal has to be to ice a group that can keep themselves in the playoff race, and the game last night showed that it is at least possible.

No need to mess with success, unless Hintz is available. Probably Jake Oettinger in net (no need to break Khudobin with another 40-plus shot game).

Dallas Stars Projected Lines

Jamie Benn (14) - Radek Faksa (12) - Denis Gurianov (34) -
Jason Dickinson (18) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Joel Kiviranta (25)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Rhett Gardner (49) - Blake Comeau (15)
Jason Robertson (21) - Justin Dowling (37) - Nick Caamano (17)

Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Mark Pysyk (13)

Jake Oettinger (29)

Florida Panthers Projected Lines

Florida is healthy, so don’t expect many changes. Sergei Bobrovsky with his Stars-killing record likely in net.

Carter Verhaeghe (23) - Aleksander Barkov (16) - Anthony Duclair (91)
Jonathan Huberdeau (11) - Alexander Wennberg (21) - Patric Hornqvist (70)
Frank Vatrano (77) - Eetu Luostarinen (27) - Brett Connolly (10)
Ryan Lomberg (94) - Juho Lammikko (83) - Vinnie Hinostroza (13)

MacKenzie Weegar (52) - Aaron Ekblad (5)
Keith Yandle (3) - Anton Stralman (6)
Gustav Forsling (42) - Radko Gudas (7)

Sergei Bobrovsky (72)

Keys to the Game

Early Leads. Dallas has been able to get early goals against Florida in both games this series. When they got behind in the first game, the Panthers were able to shut things down. The Stars don’t have the firepower to consistently fight back from behind.

Physical within the Flow. Florida pushed back after an early physical start for the Stars. Physical = Good. Penalties = Bad.

Special Teams. It’s hard to believe that the Panthers haven’t scored off of their power play in this series. They’ve looked dangerous in all of them.

Goaltender Dual. Oettinger’s positional play, plus his size should work well against a high-volume shooting team like Florida. Bobrovski has owned the Stars over his career. If either isn’t at the top of their game, this could be a blowout.