Time: 8:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: American Airlines Center
Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, 620 WDAE, Tampa Bay Lightning Power Play on iHeart Radio, MSG-B
Opponent SBNation Site: Defending Big D
Taylor Baird, managing editor of Defending Big D and fellow Hell’s Belle (our SBNation Southern Editor sorority), was kind enough to correct me for mistakenly thinking the Dallas Stars made any kind of move at the trade deadline. The Stars didn’t, but DBD wrote a great article about what they would’ve done if they’d been GM. So instead of asking her to reiterate that article, I asked her to scout the Stars for us before tomorrow’s game instead.
Raw Charge: Tell me about the play of John Klingberg. Specifically, whether you think he’s in Norris contention. Then please diagram out all his weaknesses; asking for a friend.
Taylor: John Klingberg is a smooth operator. He skates well and is a key cog to Dallas’ possession game. He’s not going to make bone-crushing plays, and he can often have trouble clearing guys out from in front of the net. But, when he does get beat defensively, he uses his amazing skating ability and good stick work to make up for it. His puck possession style and aggressiveness on the penalty kill can sometimes mean he gets burned shorthanded, but, it’s something most Stars fans don’t mind because his production more than makes up for those instances.
Raw Charge: How is your youngest defenseman, Julius Honka, doing? Anything impress you? What does he need to work on?
Taylor: Julius Honka is a bit of an enigma. He looked like his AHL aggressive self to start the season, then was told to reign it in at the NHL level. He sat for a bit, then came back into the lineup when Marc Methot was out. He came back and looked good, and finally seemed to get comfortable, even executing a Klingberg-esque point shot for a deflected power play goal.
When Methot returned, Honka found himself out of the lineup. Hitchcock seems to favor the pairings he has now, which has left Honka on the outside looking in. It’s definitely not where most Stars fans thought he’d be this year. However, it’s not unlike Stephen Johns’ season last year, and Johns has had a fantastic season this year. Maybe it’s all part of the transition to the NHL.
The real answer as to where the Stars organization sees him will be answered in the offseason, when both Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn are unrestricted free agents. The re-signing of either of those guys, combined with the expected arrival of Miro Heiskanen, might signal Honka’s redundancy in the lineup, making him an off-season trade candidate.
Raw Charge: How great is Ben Bishop and his ability to play the puck like a defender?
Taylor: Ben Bishop is looking more and more like the big-time starter the Stars needed. His numbers have been pretty good, and if his performance versus the Calgary Flames is any indication, he’s finding another gear in advance of the playoffs. If that is the case, the Stars may have the biggest advantage heading into the postseason -- and the key to getting them there.
Raw Charge: You guys have dipped down into the Wild Card slot lately. What do you ascribe this drop in play to? Injuries, fatigue?
Taylor: Team shooting percentage fell off a cliff around the same time that they started to allow more shots against. Maybe it’s a bit of fatigue, but it’s also a byproduct of two things: a) scoring slumps by some of the big guns a la Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Jason Spezza and b) the fact that the Central Division is THE. HARDEST. DIVISION. IN. HOCKEY.
Raw Charge: Spezza’s point production is half that of what it was last year. He still has a year left on his contract, is there real cause for concern with regard to his age or is it something else?
Taylor: Jason Spezza doesn’t seem to fit the Hitchcock style. It hasn’t helped that he has had wingers that aren’t exactly known for their finishing abilities this season. He needs better players around him, and last year, he produced next to Tyler Seguin and Benn. For some reason, that’s not a combination that Hitchcock has tried at 5-on-5 play yet, and the Stars really need him to figure out a way to contribute on his own or they’re going to be sorely lacking in scoring depth in the playoffs even worse than they are today.
Whether that’s a long-term issue to be concerned about is an interesting one...he does look a step behind play on a lot of nights, but if that’s really him or something getting into his head with the new defensive system is a razor-thin line.
Raw Charge: Thank you, Taylor!
The Stars are one of the best teams in the league. Their results are primarily driven by their defensive play as expected from a Ken Hitchcock coached team. They have a better shot share and expected goal share than the Lightning this season. The big difference between these teams is finishing ability. High end finishers like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov help the Lightning score more goals than expected and the Stars don’t have that extra goal scoring ability.
If the Lightning was to get any points out of this game, they’ll have to play better than they did against the Sabres. And that could be an issue given that this game is a back to back against a very good team where the Lightning will be using their back up goalie. This one screams “schedule loss” so even a point would be a success.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Alex Killorn - Brayden Point - Steven Stamkos
Adam Erne - Tyler Johnson - J.T. Miller
Chris Kunitz - Yanni Gourde - Cory Conacher
Michael Bournival - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Mikhail Sergachev - Dan Girardi
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr
Will Nikita Kucherov be back for tonight’s game?
Dallas Stars lines
Benn - Seguin - Radulov
Shore - Janmark - Spezza
Roussel - Faksa - Pitlick
Elie - Dickinson - Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Marc Methot - Stephen Johns
Smith and Honka are scratched.