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Stars Home and Away Series with Tampa Bay Start Saturday

Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

For the Dallas Stars, its a bit of a gut check time. It’s also a time to take a step back to reevaluate the common criticisms of the team.

For the gut check, the team is in a stretch of games where no lead is safe. A month ago, just having a lead (at least in the first half of any game) would have been a blessing. Now, getting up isn’t a problem – but it seems like both the turtle and the pedal to the metal strategies to hold onto leads are failing.

The team is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games, which is a legitimate 70% point percentage. That’s second in the Central Division during that timeframe. Sure, the Colorado Avalanche have jumped to the top of the division standings, but it hasn’t been by lapping the Stars. That bad feeling in the gut is more about what could have been as opposed to general sucking.

Impressions don’t translate directly to the standings. Speaking of which, what team has given up the least amount of goals in the Central? That’s right – the Dallas Stars with 61 goals against. For all of the shoot Suter/Lindell/Hakanpää to the moon angst, calling the Stars “bad” on defense may match a particular eye test, but the simplest of simple stats just doesn’t back it up.

Looking for improvement. Perhaps start with offense.

Scoring has been spread out over the top three lines, but the only trio that’s been at the top of its game is the Matt Duchene line. If you dig past the surface, the Roope Hintz line has been a 50/50 proposition this year, living off of last years reputation and the power play. Wyatt Johnston has been putting the puck in the net, but that plasters over possession numbers in the mid-40 percentile while the line is getting caved in on the defensive end.

Finally, the fourth line has been fine – but its difficult to believe that Radek Faksa can suck all of the offense out of Sam Steel and Craig Smith. If Pete DeBoer expects to roll all four lines, this line needs to get on the scoresheet.

So, there are issues that the Stars need to address, but overall things are pretty good. The team is solidly in a playoff spot, they’re healthy and nothing in particular would indicate that any of that will change.

On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking more and more like a playoff bubble team, following in the footsteps of a Chicago Blackhawks team that kept moving key pieces around trying to stay relevant up to the point where a full tear down was required.

The question of the season right now is whether Andrei Vasilevskiy, recently returned from the injured list, can regain his form and put the team on his quite capable shoulders. So far, not so good. The team celebrated Vasilevskiy’s return with a 8-2 beatdown of the Carolina Hurricanes, but its been three straight losses since. Not really a goaltending issue – the Lightning scored four goals in those three games.

Bottom line – this isn’t the Tampa Bay Lightning team that beat the Stars in the Stanley Cup Final a few years ago. The Stars should be favored in both games and if they can figure out a way to hold a lead, the team should gather up some points.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jamie Benn (14) – Roope Hintz (24) – Joe Pavelski (16)
Jason Robertson (21) – Wyatt Johnston (53) – Evgenii Dadonov (63)
Mason Marchment (27) – Matt Duchene (95) – Tyler Seguin (91)
Craig Smith (15) – Radek Faksa (12) – Sam Steel (18)

Ryan Suter (20) – Miro Heiskanen (4)
Esa Lindell (23) – Jani Hakanpää (2)
Thomas Harley (55) – Nils Lundkvist (5)

Jake Oettinger (29)
Scott Wedgewood (41)

Saturday is an early afternoon start (1pm), so these are the lines from Thursday night game against the Calgary Flames.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lineup

Steven Stamkos (91) – Brayden Point (21) – Nikita Kucherov (86)
Brandon Hagel (38) – Anthony Cirelli (71) – Michael Eyssimont (23)
Tanner Jeannot (84) – Nicholas Paul (20) – Alex Barre-Boulet (12)
Austin Watson (51) – Luke Glendening (11) – Tyler Motte (64)

Victor Hedman (77) – Nick Perbix (48)
Mikhail Sergachev (98) – Erik Cernak (81)
Calvin De Haan (44) – Darren Raddysh (43)

Andrei Vasilevskiy (88)
Jonas Johansson (31)

Conor Sheary is out on injured reserve, but otherwise the team is healthy.

Scoring is pretty top heavy, with four of the top six already in double digits in goals scored. Outside of that, watch out for Nick Pauls and his heavy net front game. Glendening already has three goals on the year, which given #Starsing, should be concerning.

Keys to the Game(s)

Finish. Fast start. get the lead. Remember to hold onto the lead.

Finish. Don’t turn Vasilevskiy onto a brick wall. Get him moving side to side and hit the net.

Finnish. Just a feeling that Miro Heiskanen is due for a breakout game – especially with Hedman looking on from the other bench.