Hockey

vs

Game Times: 7:00PM (4/6 & 4/8)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
μολὼν λαβέ: Defending Big D

It’s going to be a common refrain for the next 3 weeks, but once again the Hawks are faced with a series against a direct competitor in the division with an 8 point swing potentially on the table against the Dallas Stars, who still have three games in hand against the West Side Hockey Club.

Hockey

There seems to be this misconception that the Stars made it back to the playoffs and to the second round of the playoffs last year because of a dynamic young roster playing entertaining hockey. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as coach Jim Montgomery authored a second-half charge by boring the utter shit out of everyone and trying to copy what Barry Trotz was doing with the Isles. They got a Vezina-finalist worthy season out of Ben Bishop, which was the main catalyst. So which way does Montgomery play this now? Stick with the effective but limited, and coma-inducing, style that got the Stars into the playoffs? Or retry finding something more expansive that might be harder to pull off but leads to bigger rewards down the line?

2018-2019

43-32-7  93 points (4th in Central, out in 2nd round)

2.55 GF/G (29th)  2.44 GA/G (2nd)

48.1 CF% (23rd)  50.2 xGF% (15th)

21.0 PP% (11th)  82.8 PK% (5th)

Goalies: The Stars get to return both halves of their duo this year, and it starts with THE BISHOP! Whenever Bishop is healthy, you get Vezina-level play from him. The problem is that remains a huge “if.” Bishop only made it to the post 45 times last year, and the Stars probably are going to need more from him this time around. Even if he is healthy, they’re probably not going to get .934 from him again, though they can still expect mid-.920s.

Anton Khudobin finally found success outside Boston last year,  flourishing behind the heavy shielding he got from the Stars and their system (expected save-percentage of .925 at evens). Still, Khudobin’s .923 SV% was by far the best he’d managed in five seasons, and to expect him to get back to that, no matter the defensive shielding, is kind of pie-eyed. He’s also 33, so going up from where he was last campaign is probably not a probability either.

The goalies will be good. Bishop always has potential to be great. They definitely provide a floor for the Stars that they can’t fall through, which is around the bottom of the playoff picture.

Defense: Perhaps the reason Montgomery opted for the Mourinho approach to hockey was that he ended up pairing his only two puck-movers in John Klingbergy and Miro Heiskanen. That left him with only pluggers and punters on the next two pairings, so better to just ask them to do what they do best, i.e. roadblocks. The two Finns are wonderful players and really do push around most everyone they come across when together.

It’s pretty much the same crew now, though they added Andrej Sekera just in case he isn’t clinically dead (he is). Stephen Johns started camp with the Stars but started feeling his post-concussion problems again, and one might have to suggest his career is over. Jamie Oleksiak will sink to the third pairing where he belongs, to make room for any Esa Lindell growth. But it feels like we’ve been hearing about that one for a while now and still haven’t seen it. At 25 and in his fourth season, it’s definitely a “shit-now” kind of season.

It’s a fine collection even if it’s really only the two Norris candidates in Klingberg and Heikanen at the top. If Montgomery wants to show any adventure in the team, he’ll split those two up. If they’re together, we can probably guess it’s going to be more three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust hockey, if we can keep mixing our sports metaphors (and I can, it’s my fucking blog).

Forwards: The name in lights here is Joe Pavelski, whom Dough Wilson deemed surplus to requirements at the price and age he was. Which should give everyone a second of pause. At 35, Pavelski’s days in the middle probably should be over, but it’s hard to spot a center who can maximize his still top-tier finishing ability other than Tyler Seguin, who already has his wingers. Or Pavelski could play there and Jamie Benn can not-munch his way to 50 points on the second line, but again, same problem.

As it always is with the Stars, the rest of the lineup is littered with products of the system who serve merely as foot-soldiers and insurance-carriers. It would be hard to convince me that Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark aren’t all the same person that the Stars have just cleaved in half a few times and watched them regenerate into two. They’re also throwing Cory Perry to the wall to see if the slime he’s made of sticks, which it won’t. Between him and Sekera the level of zombification in the dressing room is certainly over quota.

But everyone below the top line are capable of carrying out the specific tasks that Montgomery sets out, which is keeping things tight and preventing goals. It feels like they’ll be doing that again.

Prediction: You could roll out Bishop and Khudobin by themselves and probably guarantee 85 points. So the question is whether the Stars can add much to it. Pavelski adds some juice to the offense, but there’s no Logan Couture or Tomas Hertil for him to play off as there was in San Jose. If he plays on the top line, it’s probably a little more offense than Benn would get you there now but the problem of support scoring is still there. There’s just not a lot of goals here, although there doesn’t have to be considering the goalies and defensive ways. The division hasn’t taken too many steps forward. If the Hawks had made improvements, I would say the Stars’ spot is the one they can aim for. But they haven’t. Around the 8th seed is more than possible for them again.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

Toronto

Arizona

Calgary

Edmonton

Los Angeles

San Jose 

Vancouver

Vegas

Colorado

Everything Else

Logan Stark is an editor at DefendingBigD.com. You can follow her @LoganStarkBooks. Hey…Stark on the Stars. We just thought of that! Anyway, here’s the Q&A we did with her two weeks ago when the Stars were here

Let’s get this out of the way up top. While the CEO swearing about the team’s two stars is good for comedic value out here, isn’t it nonsensical as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are just about the only reason the Stars are anything? (not to mention Benn’s long-standing place with the team and fans)
– First of all, Bishop and Khudobin have been absolute brick walls this season. They’re a large factor of why the Stars are still in a playoff position this late in the season. Second, Miro Heiskanen is a godsend for this team, especially when half the blue line was injured during the first half of the season. Okay, on to the real question. CEO Lites’ comments were beyond nonsensical. Not only did the tirade tarnish the team’s reputation around the league (what high-profile player would want to sign with the team now?), but it also made them a laughing stock. Benn and Seguin have proved Lites wrong with their on-ice performance, but those comments are continuing to hang over them and the team almost two months after they rocked hockey Twitter. Benn and Seguin are the faces of the franchise and are fan-favorites, and they were definitely fan-favorites for their classy responses to the comments. In the end, Lites’ comments backfired, I think, landing egg on his face – while getting some good splatter on the team that will come off with time. CEOs come and go, but Benn and Seguin are here to stay for a long, long time. In the end, it’s their on-ice performance and leadership in the locker room that matters the most. The team and coaching staff still support them, so why should fans do any different?
Why has Julius Honka not worked? The pedigree is there, he seems to have a coach that wants to play faster, and yet four points is four points…
– Do we have time for me to draft a graduate dissertation on why Honka hasn’t worked? No? Okay, let’s give this a shot: The yo-yo effect under Hitchcock last season did absolutely nothing for Honka. Not only was he bounced between the Dallas Stars and their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, but he was bounced with such frequency that he never had a chance to settle into the lineup and make a real impact. When Honka did spend time in Dallas, it was most often as a healthy scratch or with sub-par ice time. None of that helped his development and can only have hurt his confidence on the ice. We’ve seen flashes of his brilliance on the ice, but not this season. He’s been a healthy scratch with regularity under Montgomery, which leads me to believe that Montgomery doesn’t know where to slot him in within the current lineup. There’s just not room in the lines for a player struggling to produce (hush, let’s not talk about Nichushkin) and who needs time on the ice to get his skates back under him, so to speak. At this point, I would say it’s time to trade Honka, use him to bring in fresh talent that’s capable of producing at a steady rate.
Jim Nill has gotten three coaches. At what point does the cannon point at him?
– If the Stars fail to make the playoffs this spring, I think there’s going to be a turnover in the front office. It’s pretty clear that management expects this roster to be a repeat contender, yet they’ve failed to make a real postseason splash. If the Stars fail to make the playoffs (or fail to make it past the first round), I would place good money on Nill being let go. The lack of postseason performances and his lackluster record at the draft table would definitely be grounds for his exit from the team. At a certain point, it’s not about the coaches, but about the guy in the front office saddling said coaches with questionable trades, picks, and players.
What are the Stars gong to do before the deadline (assuming they don’t do anything before we print this, in which case I’ll just switch whatever you said to what they did and make you look like geniuses)?
– Nill has gone on record saying they’re looking for offensive power and depth at the deadline, and Dallas scouts have been checking out Zuccarello and Panarin (they got Zuc, and then he got hurt-ED). I would keep an eye out for the Stars to make a move for either of them on a rental basis (with an extension option on the table). One thing to watch for: the picks and/or players they send the opposite way. Just what is the front office willing to part with in exchange for a player that just might help the Stars get to the playoffs? In the past, Nill has been pretty good about not giving up first round picks or developing players that will aid the team. However, the Stars are getting desperate to make that playoff push this year, so is this the year Nill finally parts with the golden ticket of a first round pick?

 

 

Game #68 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It would be hard to not connect Miro Heiskanen and Henri Jokiharju. They’re both Finnish, they’re both 19, they were both on the Finnish World Junior team last season, and they’re both being anchored by their teams in some way. Also, both seem precocious but both have been vaulted onto their NHL teams a little more quickly than anticipated.

Jokiharju’s story you know. Heiskanen’s is a touch different. The Stars were a little more set on the blue line than the Hawks were, especially when Connor Murphy showed up to training camp missing a spine. The Stars saved their injuries for the regular season, when Heiskanen had already made the team, though the plan may have been just to give him a look. But he and Esa Lindell are the only d-men who have made the bell for every Stars game. John Klingberg has missed 18 games. Marc Methot has only played nine games. Julius Honka hasn’t established himself and has only played 29. Stephen Johns hasn’t played at all due to concussion problems. So the Stars ended up needing Heiskanen as much as the Hawks needed, and probably still need, Jokiharju.

And in a similar way, the Stars have tied Heiskanen’s skates together, though they had little choice. The rookie has spent most of the season tethered to Roman Polak, which as you know is akin to being tethered to a gassy walrus. While Heiskanen has dynamic puck-skill and skating ability, it’s hard to showcase that when you have to follow Polak around with a plastic bag every shift. Yes, Polak has the profile of the center fielder that an adventurer like Heiskanen would need. But Polak can’t move. Together, they’ve been getting clocked to the tune of a 45.3 Corsi-percentage. When Heiskanen gets away from Polak, he’s dead even 50%, which is ahead of the team-rate by a touch. It’s even worse when you get to scoring chances, as with Polak they only get 43% of them but away from Polak, Heiskanen is at 53%.

Really, Heiskanen has only flourished with John Klingberg, as the latter is one of the best puck-moving d-men around. And with the injuries, that’s about all the Stars have to offer. Things were slightly better with Esa Lindell, which was the route when Klingberg was hurt. Perhaps the acquisition of Ben Lovejoy yesterday is seeking to provide Heiskanen with a better spirit guide and safety net.

The picture will get clearer next year. Taylor Fedun, Polak, and Lovejoy are all UFA. It’s a real question if Honka will be re-signed even though he’s only just coming out of his entry-deal. He just hasn’t shown a lot at this level. The Stars can focus on building around Heiskanen, Lindell, and Klingberg. If Johns ever plays again, and after missing a whole season due to concussion problems that’s a fair question, he would seem the perfect partner for Heiskanen going forward. But they can’t count on that.

Perhaps the Stars will take the new-fangled route, and just have two guys who can skate and play like Heiskanen and Klingberg together. Considering the way the game is speeding up, more and more teams are going to. Maybe one day even the Hawks will figure that one out, too.

 

Game #63 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Logan Stark is a contributor at DefendingBigD.com. You can follow her @LoganStarkBook. Hey…Stark on the Stars. We just thought of that!

Let’s get this out of the way up top. While the CEO swearing about the team’s two stars is good for comedic value out here, isn’t it nonsensical as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are just about the only reason the Stars are anything? (not to mention Benn’s long-standing place with the team and fans)
– First of all, Bishop and Khudobin have been absolute brick walls this season. They’re a large factor of why the Stars are still in a playoff position this late in the season. Second, Miro Heiskanen is a godsend for this team, especially when half the blue line was injured during the first half of the season. Okay, on to the real question. CEO Lites’ comments were beyond nonsensical. Not only did the tirade tarnish the team’s reputation around the league (what high-profile player would want to sign with the team now?), but it also made them a laughing stock. Benn and Seguin have proved Lites wrong with their on-ice performance, but those comments are continuing to hang over them and the team almost two months after they rocked hockey Twitter. Benn and Seguin are the faces of the franchise and are fan-favorites, and they were definitely fan-favorites for their classy responses to the comments. In the end, Lites’ comments backfired, I think, landing egg on his face – while getting some good splatter on the team that will come off with time. CEOs come and go, but Benn and Seguin are here to stay for a long, long time. In the end, it’s their on-ice performance and leadership in the locker room that matters the most. The team and coaching staff still support them, so why should fans do any different?
Why has Julius Honka not worked? The pedigree is there, he seems to have a coach that wants to play faster, and yet four points is four points…
– Do we have time for me to draft a graduate dissertation on why Honka hasn’t worked? No? Okay, let’s give this a shot: The yo-yo effect under Hitchcock last season did absolutely nothing for Honka. Not only was he bounced between the Dallas Stars and their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, but he was bounced with such frequency that he never had a chance to settle into the lineup and make a real impact. When Honka did spend time in Dallas, it was most often as a healthy scratch or with sub-par ice time. None of that helped his development and can only have hurt his confidence on the ice. We’ve seen flashes of his brilliance on the ice, but not this season. He’s been a healthy scratch with regularity under Montgomery, which leads me to believe that Montgomery doesn’t know where to slot him in within the current lineup. There’s just not room in the lines for a player struggling to produce (hush, let’s not talk about Nichushkin) and who needs time on the ice to get his skates back under him, so to speak. At this point, I would say it’s time to trade Honka, use him to bring in fresh talent that’s capable of producing at a steady rate.
Jim Nill has gotten three coaches. At what point does the cannon point at him?
– If the Stars fail to make the playoffs this spring, I think there’s going to be a turnover in the front office. It’s pretty clear that management expects this roster to be a repeat contender, yet they’ve failed to make a real postseason splash. If the Stars fail to make the playoffs (or fail to make it past the first round), I would place good money on Nill being let go. The lack of postseason performances and his lackluster record at the draft table would definitely be grounds for his exit from the team. At a certain point, it’s not about the coaches, but about the guy in the front office saddling said coaches with questionable trades, picks, and players.
What are the Stars gong to do before the deadline (assuming they don’t do anything before we print this, in which case I’ll just switch whatever you said to what they did and make you look like geniuses)?
– Nill has gone on record saying they’re looking for offensive power and depth at the deadline, and Dallas scouts have been checking out Zuccarello and Panarin. I would keep an eye out for the Stars to make a move for either of them on a rental basis (with an extension option on the table). One thing to watch for: the picks and/or players they send the opposite way. Just what is the front office willing to part with in exchange for a player that just might help the Stars get to the playoffs? In the past, Nill has been pretty good about not giving up first round picks or developing players that will aid the team. However, the Stars are getting desperate to make that playoff push this year, so is this the year Nill finally parts with the golden ticket of a first round pick?

 

Game #63 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built