Stars Look For Opening Series Sweep Against Predators

Special teams drive big opening win, but injuries and even-strength play leave questions.

It’s hard to look at the opening 7-0 Dallas Stars win over the Nashville Predators and not feel great. Dallas found the net with regularity, and by the end of the game, the “Dobby” chants were echoing through a full-as-could-be American Airlines Center.

With five power-play goals, an even-strength goal, and a shorthanded tally to back it up, there wasn’t much that Nashville could do to end the celebration of live hockey’s return to the Metroplex. The Stars needed to wash the disappointment of a Stanley Cup loss out of the system, and the Friday night should have accomplished just that.

With so much special teams success, it’s hard to look too hard at the rest of the performance. For sure, rust showed up in the first period; Dallas was seeing its first action of the year against a team with a few games under their belt. It showed, but Anton Khudobin brought his midseason form, turning away several high-quality chances, which allowed the team to hit the first intermission locked in a 0-0 tie.

Beyond that, special teams dominated, and anything resembling even-strength action was tainted by the score effects resulting from an insurmountable Stars’ lead. The only question to answer was whether Khudobin would secure the shutout, which he did without much drama.

So what worked?

From my vantage point, the obvious answer was the pairing of Alexander Radulov with Joe Pavelski, who enters his second season in Dallas looking like he’s found his comfort zone. Throw in Joel Kiviranta as a jack-of-all-trades, and the Stars’ second line was dominant whenever they were on the ice.

Unfortunately, Kiviranta is now listed as day-to-day, as is captain Jamie Benn. Benn took an awkward blow to the knee in Friday’s game, and in spite of a short return to the ice, he missed the entire third period. Missing a game or two could be viewed as dodging a much worse fate — looking at the impact in slow motion, it could have been a lot worse.

For today’s game, that leaves a distinct possibility that Dallas could be down the left-wingers on the first and second lines. Based on reputation, Jason Robertson could move up, but he was less than impactful on the fourth line on Friday. Someone playing with Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov is going to have to take on some defensive responsibility, which probably moves Jason Dickinson into the top six.

Further down the lineup, the FCC (sans the second C) line was pedestrian at best, and Ty Dellandrea brought about what you would expect from a young player in his first NHL game. The line didn’t create much on the offensive end, and their defense missed the grit that Blake Comeau brings on the right wing.

Last season, the Stars’ depth — especially with a solid fourth line — allowed the team to find favorable matchups by rolling all lines. Robertson and Dickinson paired with Nick Caamano played most of their time in the defensive zone, with Caamano looking especially bad in basic shot metrics.

Again, it’s one game, and one game that was in no sense standard, but these are trends to keep an eye on.

Defensively, the top four looked about how you would expect, especially with a bit of rust to clean up in the first game of the season. The pairing of Andrej Sekera and Mark Pysyk wasn’t horrible, but it might be nice to see a bit of Taylor Fedun on the right side.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Take these with a grain of salt, but this is my best guess. I’d actually rather see Joel L’Esperance on the right side on the fourth line, with Dellandrea taking the center, but given past history, this is a situation that usually calls for Justin Dowling.

Jason Dickinson (18) - Roope Hintz (24) - Dennis Gurianov (34)
Joel Kiviranta (25) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Nick Caamano (17)
Jason Robertson (21) - Justin Dowling (37) - Ty Dellandrea (10)

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

Anton Khudobin (35)

Nashville Predators Lineup

Filip Forsberg (9) - Ryan Johansen (92) - Viktor Arvidsson (33)
Mikael Granlund (64) - Matt Duchene (95) - Luke Kunin (11)
Nick Cousins (21) - Erik Haula (56) - Colton Sissons (10)
Yakov Trenin (13) - Brad Richardson (15) - Mathieu Olivier (25)

Roman Josi (59) - Ryan Ellis (4)
Mattias Ekholm (14) - Dante Fabbro (57)
Mark Borowiecki (90) - Matt Benning (5)

Juuse Saros (74)

Keys to the Game

Momentum. Nashville came into Friday’s game playing good hockey, and they’ll be looking for a bit of payback. The Stars need to put up a few goals, just to show themselves that the first game wasn’t a fluke.

Rookies. None of the Stars’ first-year players stood out in the first game (okay to be fair, Kiviranta doesn’t count in my book). First-game jitters should be out of the system, so it’s time to step up and be noticeable on the ice.

Special Teams. Some regression to the mean is going to happen, but Dallas had the puck moving in the first game. More of the same, please.