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GAME DAY: Stars End Season Opening Road Trip in Pittsburgh

The Dallas Stars finish up their four game, season-opening road trip in Pittsburgh on Tuesday evening. If the first three games are any indication, the fix to the offense that was to come from the return of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and a healthy Roope Hintz may not be on the way.

Per NaturalStatTrick, the Stars supernova line of Seguin, Radulov and Jamie Benn ranks next to last on the team in expected goals for percentage, just above the fourth line. Truth be told, Radulov’s performance in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon is the only thing keeping the line out of the basement.

It’s only three games, so you do get some statistical anomalies. Radek Faksa’s position at the top of the Stars point list probably won’t last. Neither will Esa Lindell’s leading the team in shots.

What you do expect is that the team doesn’t throw away everything that was discussed during the off-season. That includes rolling three forward lines that present an offensive threat and a defensive structure that promotes the activation of defenders to drive a transition offense. Even if you go back to the old formula, you at least expect a netfront presence – which was sorely missing against the Ottawa Senators.

What’s concerning is that, with a few setbacks (primarily Jason Robertson and John Klingberg being out), the team seems to have returned to an old comfort zone. Depend on your “stars”, clamp down on defense and push play to the walls, and ultimately hope that you can win playing low event hockey. That’s the formula that led the team to miss the playoffs last year.

On the other hand, take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team has come out of the gates 2-0-1, scoring at a five goal a game pace. They beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 at home on Saturday, but their first two games were both road games: a 6-2 opening night victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning and a 5-4 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers.

All this without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and losing Bryan Rust to injury during the Florida game. Each line has scored at least three goals, and all forwards with at least two games played is on the scoresheet, most of them with goals.

Tristan Jarry has been steady in net, and their defense is highly paid and somewhat effective.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jamie Benn (14) – Tyler Seguin (91) – Alexander Radulov (47)
Jacob Peterson (40) – Roope Hintz (24) – Joel Kiviranta (25)
Michael Raffl (11) – Radek Faksa (12) – Joe Pavelski (16)
Tanner Kero (64) – Luke Glendenning (18) – Denis Gurianov (34)

Esa Lindell (23) – Miro Heiskanen (4)
Ryan Suter (20) – Andrej Sekera (5)
Joel Hanley (44) – Jani Hakanpää (2)

Braden Holtby (70)

Injuries: John Klingberg was not on the ice for warmups, marking the third game in a row he’ll miss due to a lower-body injury sustained in the season opener. Jason Robertson (upper body, day-to-day) and Blake Comeau (upper body, day-to-day) will both miss their fourth game in a row, with neither on the road trip with the team. The coaching staff had hoped that maybe one would be available to play today.

Pittsburgh Penguins Lineup

Jake Guentzel (59) – Jeff Carter (77) – Danton Heinen (43)
Jason Zucker (16) – Evan Rodrigues (9) – Kasperi Kapanen (42)
Zach Aston-Reese (12) – Teddy Blueger (53) – Brock McGinn (23)
Drew O’Connor (10) – Brian Boyle (11) – Dominik Simon (49)

Brian Dumoulin (8) – Kris Letang (58)
Marcus Pettersson (28) – John Marino (6)
Michael Matheson (5) – Chad Ruhwedel (2)

Tristan Jarry (35)

Keys to the Game

Dirty Areas. Against the Senators, Dallas relied on low danger shots from the outside. The forwards need to get to the net front, and defenders need to find a way to get the puck there without getting blocked.

Intensity. Through the first three games, the team has played with limited urgency. Alexander Radulov upped his game in Ottawa, but the rest of the team needs to follow.

Mix it up. Even without Robertson, this team can put three lines on the ice that are scoring threats. Maybe it’s time to mix things up a little.