Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME #19
Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: SUNS, FSSW
Opponent SBNation Site: Defending Big D
The Stars currently sit at 18th in the League with a -1 goal differential. They are on a two-game Southern losing streak, dropping games to Carolina (5-1) and Florida (4-3 SO) before walking into Amalie with a Ben Bishop wanting to show off for his old team.
I’m putting the comparison chart first because the numbers are fascinating; this is a Dallas Stars team that looks very, very different with Ken Hitchcock at the helm. Despite Dallas’s stunning numbers on the power play, their even-strength numbers look slim for a team that boasts talent like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and part of that is simply bad luck. On the power play and penalty kill, however, the Stars are so good that they make Stamkos and Kucherov’s efforts look OK, just OK.
The Stars and Lightning sit first and second in power play percentage and seventh and eighth in penalty kill percentage, which will make for an interesting match up on special teams. However, there is a disparity here. The Stars have only had 53 power plays, third fewest in the NHL, while the Lightning have the fifth-most opportunities at 70. Even with the Stars’ lack of opportunities, they are only four power play goals behind the Lightning’s 20 goals. Ten of Dallas’s power play goals have also come on the road.
At even strength, the Stars seem to be spending far too much time playing defense, but at least they’re good at it. In 2016-17, they allowed the second-most goals per game in the NHL at 3.17, despite being the twelfth-best team in the league in shots allowed. So far this season, the Stars are giving up the least number of shots in the NHL at 28.7 SA/G and have improved to the fourteenth-best team in goals allowed per game at 2.83 GA/G. By contrast, the Lightning are first in the NHL in GF/G at 3.89, and 12th in shots on goal per game.
It'll be important for the Lightning to shake off the rust from their three day vacation after returning from California. The team will need to continue to play very good defense to counteract the talent that Dallas has up front in Jamie Benn (10-9-19, t-20th), Tyler Seguin (8-9-17, 36th), and Alexander Radulov (6-11-17, 40th). On the back-end, John Klingberg (4-14-18) leads NHL defensemen in scoring.
The return of Ben Bishop is the obvious story line in this game. He was an extremely popular player for the Lightning, always getting the loudest cheer from Amalie Arena when announced as the starter, and many fans wanted to see him stick around to be a Bolt For Life. However, Vasilevskiy has shown why it was the right move for the team to move on from Bishop.
Bishop is a smart, funny, kind-hearted man that can flash a smile that makes you feel instant happiness. When spotted in public, he would often stop for selfies and autographs. One year at Fan Fest, he stayed an extra two hours signing autographs despite the handlers wanting him to cut it off after the normal hour allotted for players to sign. But when he stepped on the ice, he was Mr. Serious and a serious competitor. He did not like to lose.
While "losing" to Vasilevskiy probably stung a bit, Bishop took it all in stride that part of his role as the starter while Vasilevskiy was developing was to help him grow. In some aspects, it became a competition to try to best each other, all while Bishop was taking Vasilevskiy under the wing and teaching him. In his comments to the media yesterday, Bishop said he viewed Vasilevskiy almost like a little brother. Now, he's getting to see his little brother grow up and blossom into his own as the Lightning's starter.
Five (+1) Questions with Defending Big D
Defending Big D’s managing editor Taylor Baird took time away from a stressful week to chat with us about the 2017-18 Dallas Stars.
RC: How's Ben Bishop working out for y’all?
TB: He's been a steadying force in the net, even if his individual numbers aren't lighting the world on fire. Maybe we've just not seen a really good goaltender in Dallas for years now. Maybe it's more eye-ball test than the numbers show. But Bishop makes a lot of "those saves" you need to have in games....something Kari Lehtonen was very not good at last year.
RC: What's up with this flip flop of great defense and no-scoring?
TB: It's the Ken Hitchcock Effect (TM). It's like he has the entire team hyper aware of their defensive responsibilities and they're almost afraid to inject creativity for scoring. That's maybe why the power play has been so good - much less defensive-minded style of play is needed when you've got the man advantage.
RC: How do you like the Ken Hitchcock experience round two?
TB: Can I claim mixed feelings? In some ways, it's very exciting having special teams that aren't terribad anymore. On the other, there have been plenty of boring games and a real lack of offense most nights that can suck the fun out of watching hockey. I think I'd almost rather watch the High Event Hockey Dallas employed two years ago instead on some nights.
RC: How are the other teams in the central doing, and do you feel you have a window?
TB: Luckily for Dallas, the rest of the division seems to be struggling too. There's only about five points between most of the teams in the division, so it does seem as though Dallas is still well in the thick of things this year so far. They'll just need to figure it out faster than teams like Chicago.
RC: Who's been the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment of the season thus far?
TB: The biggest surprise this season may be Tyler Pitlick. His signing was met with not a lot of fanfare, but when he's been in the lineup early on this season, he has contributed to what few secondary scoring successes Dallas has experienced this year.
RC (+1): Where's Julius Honka? He's a guy that was always rumored in potential Ben Bishop to Dallas trades last season. Seems like he's struggling to break into the line up. Why is that?
TB: First, I don't know where that rumor has come from because we in Dallas sure didn't hear that one. Sounds more like the wishful thinking of a fanbase to me. ;) The fact that Honka is not in Dallas has been a sore spot for many Stars fans this season. General manager Jim Nill has contributed to Honka's burying in the AHL by re-signing the likes of Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak this summer, giving Dallas 9 blueliners (with Honka) at the NHL level.
Honka is the only one that can be sent through without passing waivers, and Dallas management seems to think that if they just hang on to Oleksiak long enough he'll turn into another Zdeno Chara. (Can you feel the sarcasm here?) Most in Dallas would prefer to see him get a new start elsewhere to make room for Honka. His possession stats and confident play prior to this season are exactly something that Dallas is missing on the blueline and could give them a new look to their offense—if they'd get out of their own way and let it.
RC: Thank you for your time, Taylor!
Tampa Bay Lightning
Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Gabriel Dumont
Chris Kunitz - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi
Mattias Janmark - Jamie Benn - Alexander Radulov
Gemel Smith - Tyler Seguin - Devin Shore
Remi Elie - Martin Hanzal - Jason Spezza
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Jamie Oleksiak - Stephen Johns