Sporting championship rematches are often heaped with hype, anticipation. Forecasting a rematch of titans in their sport, a return to glory, if you will. This one between the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning does not feel that way.
In what was to be their fifth meeting of the season, the Dallas Stars travel to meet their 2019-2020 Stanley Cup foes in the Tampa Bay Lightning, tonight.
While the Dallas Stars are still tied for the least games played in the NHL (New Jersey, 15), the gap between those served has shrunk considerably over the recent week following a three-game blitz opposite the Florida Panthers. Dallas is now just four games off the pace of divisional leader Florida and three games removed from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortunately, the Stars on ice results have not matched this uptick.
If the Central Division fell into an ice age outside Dallas and its opponents over the next four games and the Stars managed to be victorious in all four, they would still place fifth place overall. Which is not a playoff position. Apologies for the ice age analogy. It was movie night over here yesterday and The Day After Tomorrow did not disappoint.
What does Dallas have to do to be victorious tonight? Let’s visit three topics of importance.
Offensive, even strength goals
Tampa Bay is a sound team; up and down the ice. There is no questioning that. Our least favorite boys in blue – apologies St. Louis – rank second in the NHL this season in ‘Goals For’ and ‘Goals Against’ per game. To the point of even strength goals, Tampa joins Dallas in the bottom half of the NHL for penalties taken and touts a Top-5 PK (Power Kill, 86.9%) unit.
Dallas, of their nearly league low forty-six goals to date, count just twenty-two of those in even strength situations off the stick of offensive players. Four of these from Alexander Radulov and Roope Hintz, both of whom are expected to be out of the lineup on Saturday.
To compound this, Dallas returns just 39% of their offensive point production from the Stanley Cup finals into this game tonight. This is again discounting Radulov and Hintz.
While the Dallas Stars are admittedly a team that mixes defensive production into their final stat line above other teams, do not expect a lackadaisical performance from Tampa in their defensive zone. Jon Klingberg magic is likely to find it difficult to make an appearance tonight. Expect much of this game to be fought in the slot/crease. An area that Corey Perry and Alexander Radulov had success in versus Tampa Bay last season.
Anton Khudobin vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy
Who knows what Anton Khudobin was doing on Thursday as the Dallas Stars recalled Landon Bow from the taxi-squad to back up Jake Oettinger. Khudobin was allowed a day of rest following the ninety-four shot onslaught seen in his previous two contests against Florida. In case you forgot, he stopped ninety-two of those shots.
Whether he spent his time scarfing frozen yogurt, sight seeing or watching Netflix, he will need to be well rested to receive the Lightning and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight.
While the two feature similar save percentages on the season (.928/.935), Vasilevskiy has logged more minutes on the ice than nearly all goaltenders this season and is arguably the groupings most outstanding character thus far. He is the NHL leader in wins (11) and is the only net minder to register a GAA (Goals Against Average) under 2.00 (1.87) and serve over seven hundred minutes in goal.
For what it’s worth, Vasilevskiy was not light years better than Khudobin against Dallas in the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Advanced metrics aside, his .911% save percentage was just .001% above that of Khudobin.
While Vasilevskiy is undefeated in eight regular season games against Dallas (5-0-3), the Stars have managed to register sixteen of their nineteen tallies in even strength situations versus the Russian net minder. This is key to victory tonight.
Stay out of the penalty box
Sure, Dallas has the fifth best power play conversion rate in the NHL. In the same sort, Tampa Bay looks a distant tenth. However, the Lightning’s 24.59% would be good for third in the NHL last season and eclipses their numbers from last season. In case you forgot, Tampa Bay punished Dallas in the Stanley Cup Finals to the tune of seven power play goals.
Admittedly, off the lips of Captain Jamie Benn following Thursday’s loss to the Florida, Dallas is struggling at times to close off scoring chances.
I mean they were coming at us pretty good there,’’ captain Jamie Benn said. “I guess we could have tightened up our defensive zone.
If Dallas is going to survive Tampa Bay on Saturday, it will be important to spend as much time as possible playing 5v5 hockey. Amidst a ten game set frock with disappointment, the Dallas Stars are trending positively in penalty minutes served.
Over their first six games, Dallas averaged nearly ten penalty minutes per game, 9.6. Their average over the last ten games of 7.5 is a significant improvement. In Florida on Thursday, the Stars committed just a single penalty. That penalty however did yield a goal against.
After dressing the same lineup in back-to-back contests for the first time this season in Florida on Wednesday and Thursday, it will be interesting to see what Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness comes up for this game. It’s easy to get caught up in the fan-fare of a Stanley Cup rematch but it is just another two-point contest. No different than the last.
All caveats aside, this lineup, with Jason Dickinson centering line one and Radek Faksa center on line two provided 112 minutes of 5-0 hockey in Florida prior to #wallmageddon.
Outside Landon Bow there appears to be no taxi-squad movement for this one, which means any lineup tweaks will likely be minimal at best. Roope Hintz, whom Rick Bowness has announced is a game time decision is likely the biggest wildcard to your Dallas Stars watching experience.
I will be leaning on my Marty Turco 2008-11 primary, black jersey for this one. Wear your best, let’s get these two-points.