Get used to the word “speed” and its synonyms. They will be used a lot to describe both of these teams.
After a tough 3-5 loss at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, the Nashville Predators are looking to use what they learned about themselves over the past three days off and put it to good use against a Dallas Stars team that also thrives off of out-skating their opponents.
The Dallas Stars boast the same core as last year, lead by their talented forward cast of Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and most importantly Jamie Benn. The good news is that their defense and goaltending is also relatively unchanged. While he was not named to Team Sweden in the World Cup of Hockey, John Klingberg is a respectable opponent on the blue line. Nevertheless, outside of Klingberg’s countryman Johnny Oduya, there are not any other real players to watch out for on the back end. Meanwhile, lackluster goaltenders Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi still share the duties in the crease.
While they may appear weak on the back end, and one could rightfully say they are, the Dallas Stars are the reigning Central Division champions. Like a well-oiled European soccer team, they are relentless on the counterattack, rushing down the ice and creating odd man rushes out of the most microscopic mistakes. For the Predators, a possession based team, it will be absolutely critical to avoid poor passes in Dallas’ half of the ice, as they will take the puck and punish such errors.
The Dallas Stars
As eluded to earlier, the Dallas Stars retained the same core and identity this off-season. Captain Jamie Benn carries a league wide reputation as a prolific goal scorer and a two-way player. He plays on a line with the dynamic Tyler Seguin and Patrick Eaves, a utility player who fills a similar role to Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok in being able to play on pretty much any line in any role.
Dallas’ second line of Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, and Jiri Hudler is also bursting with speed. Jiri Hudler was one of the best low-budget signings this off-season. The 32-year-old Czech posted 46 points last season and was signed for a one year deal worth $2 million. There is an old adage that one should play to one’s strengths, and the Dallas Stars certainly did so in adding Hudler.
However, conventional wisdom dictates that one needs defense to win championships, and the Dallas Stars are still profoundly lacking on the back end of their ice. Their top pairing on defense is John Klingberg and ex-Predator Dan Hamhuis. While Klingberg is certainly a strong defender, the 33-year-old Hamhuis’ point totals have regressed each season. Furthermore, he has yet to play two full and healthy back-to-back seasons since 2009-10.
Johnny Oduya is a stabilizing force on the second line, but as the graph indicates, this is not a group of defensemen that are know for being tough to play against. Considering the offensive prowess of the Dallas Stars, the defense does not need to be a bunch of world beaters; they just have to do their job.
Unfortunately, the goaltenders also need to do their job, and the Dallas Stars have not received much production out of their tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. With $10 million in salary cap locked up between the two goalies, one should expect for this to be a 1A - 1B kind of goaltending duo, similar to when the St. Louis Blues had both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot in net.
This is not the case for the Dallas Stars.
The two masked men combined for a goals against average of 2.78 last season, the worst team average for a playoff-bound club. In their last game on Saturday night, Niemi let in five goals and Lehtonen one more in a 5-6 loss at the hands of the Colorado Avalance. If the Dallas Stars want to be a better team this season, their alarming concerns within the crease need to be resolved.
The Nashville Predators
Saturday night the Predators lost the second leg of a back-to-back with the Chicago Blackhawks 3-5. Marek Mazanec was between the pipes for the handsome men in gold and, although his first period was rough, he managed to calm down and make some fine saves through the rest of the game. To place his performance in perspective, Mazanec is only 25-years-old and Saturday was his first NHL game since January 2015 and third in his career.
Regardless, Pekka Rinne should return to the crease for today’s heavyweight bout. After also suffering from some first period jitters Friday night, Rinne calmed down and steered the Predators to a 3-2 win over Chicago. Against another quality team in the Dallas Stars, Rinne will need to play like he did the final 40 minutes of Friday.
There is not much concern with the rest of the Predators lineup, as everyone has performed admirably so far. The top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Kevin Fiala has looked absolutely deadly, and it is only a matter of time until they start scoring. Johansen, in particular, has demonstrated fantastic vision in both games this season. He picked up three assists in the first game of the season, all on the power play, and was unlucky not to add to his total on Saturday night.
Regarding the power play, it already seems as if the 8.7% conversion rate of the Predators during the playoffs last year is a thing of the past. Currently the Predators are potting goals at a rate of 50.0% and, although there is no way that number can be maintained throughout the season, it has looked much more dynamic than the strategy implemented last season in just giving the puck to Shea Weber. At the very least, the power play is becoming less predictable and more lethal.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team is playing fast, talented hockey too. Viktor Arvidsson in particular has been dynamite, zooming past defenders and hustling non-stop up and down the ice. He was finally rewarded with a pretty goal on Saturday night, using his speed to gain just enough space to advance past the Chicago defense and score.
Reasons To Watch
- These two teams are going to see a lot of each other this season and, if the pundits are right, in the postseason. Any game between Nashville and one of Dallas, Chicago, and St. Louis is must-see TV.
- These two teams play fast, exciting hockey. This is not your father’s Barry Trotz Predators. One could argue that the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars are two of the three fastest teams in the league, right up there with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
- This match-up has the making of a goalapalooza. Both ends of the rink have inconsistent goaltending, with the Stars situation considerably worse. Expect a good old-fashioned barn burner tonight in Nashville.
Gameday Hockey Lingo Word of the Day
Barn Burner [barn burn·er], noun
Definition: A hockey game in which a lot of goals are scored.
Example: “Expect a good old-fashioned barn burner tonight in Nashville.”
Origin: When hockey was first played indoors, roofs would often be made of wood. These old rinks looked like and are lovingly referred to as barns. If a hockey player says that he or she does not like playing in a barn, they are either lying or Corey Perry. As a bit of a knockoff of the phrase “burning rubber”, the speed and excitement of high scoring games theoretically could “burn the barn down,” which led to the phrase “barn burner.” Every other sport then decided to steal this word from us, but don’t worry, it’s hockey lingo.
Sights and Sounds
You can (and should) head downtown to Bridgestone Arena for the game, but if circumstances otherwise prevent you from doing so, the game will be on on FS-TN and you can listen to it on 102.5 The Game. Puck drops at 7:00 pm.