Stars Need Redemption Against Lightning

The team is mired in a funk. Time to get back to the boring basics.

They probably already burned the tape, but if you were to watch the game from Saturday night between the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning, you’d see a major contrast.

The defending Stanley Cup champions knew where the puck was going, and met it there. Dallas chased.

Sure, the energy level was missing in action. There were some miscues on the back end, and the netminding wasn’t up to the standard on which the team has come to depend.

The Stars fell back on physical, but with no purpose — and ultimately no result.

So what is this team? It’s a team that’s missing first-line center Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov hitting the injured reserve coincides suspiciously with the team’s slide in the standings. Joe Pavelski’s numbers have understandably slipped — he’s still a danger on the power play, but the top unit can’t enter the zone and there is an overriding dependence on dump-and-chase.

With the team down big, and no energy in the group, the line mixer took over on Saturday night, but there wasn’t much to glean from the extended garbage time. Besides, fans already know what works here and the shuffling isn’t going to teach us anything that we don’t already know.

There are a few pieces missing — Radulov being the one whose return is most imminent. Beyond that, it’s Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov on the rush. That’s disappeared, and it’s been sorely missed. At some point, Radulov with Pavelski will return; hopefully by the end of the week, but in the meantime, Pavelski on his own is missing the edge that gets pucks to (and into) the net.

The FCC line works, but that’s more about low-event hockey. Looking at the numbers, they’ve supplied more offense than should be expected, but realistically they are not going to solve the Stars’ offensive woes. Mix and match in a fourth line full of NHL/AHL ‘tweeners, and you’re going to get a periodic even-strength goal.

That’s where this team is right now. If Radulov gets back in a few days, that will help. Hintz and Gurinov — preferably with Jason Robertson — getting back to their speed game is another key to success. FCC against the opponent’s top line, and a rotating group of energy on the fourth line is what’s left.

It’s not pretty, it probably won’t be much fun to watch, but it’s the way to keep this team in the playoff conversation, at least until the top six is the Stars’ true top six. Let me reintroduce you to the pesky, hard-to-play-against Dallas Stars.

One thing worth exploring might be on defense. Using Miro Heiskanen and Jamie Oleksiak as the shutdown pair seems to have broken Heiskanen’s offense. One thought is that with Oleksiak more likely to jump into the play, Heiskanen is forced into a less assertive offensive role. It might be worth pairing Heiskanen with a stay-at-home defender, freeing him up to attack on a more regular basis.

Argue with me if you want, but this is what I would do. And yes, Dowling on the first line with Benn and Pavelski — he’s the only player on the Stars who brings the same tools (admittedly not as sharp) that Radulov brings.

Dallas Stars Projected Lines

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)
Joel Kiviranta (25) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Nick Caamano (17)

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

Anton Khudobin (35)

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

Ondrej Palat (18) - Brayden Point (21) - Blake Coleman (20)
Alex Killorn (17) - Anthony Cirelli (71) - Steven Stamkos (91)
Barclay Goodrow (19) - Yanni Gourde (37) - Tyler Johnson (9)
Patrick Maroon (14) - Mathieu Joseph (7) - Alexander Volkov (92)

Victor Hedman (77) - Mikhail Sergachev (98)
Ryan McDonagh (27) - Erik Cernak (81)
Jan Rutta (44) - Cal Foote (52)

Andrei Vasilevskiy (88)

Keys to the Game

Goaltending. The Stars are fragile right now. They scored first in all three games against the Florida Panthers, but only came out with one win. Against the Lightning, they went down fairly early, and never recovered to the point where they looked like they could work their way back in. This game could use a heroic effort in the nets.

Speed. Hintz and Gurinov can change a game’s dynamics with their breakaway speed. Dallas needs a change, and getting some production off of the rush is the most obvious way to get that done.

A bounce. Sometimes when things aren’t going well, you just need to catch a break. Pipe in instead of pipe out, especially early, could bring back the team’s confidence.