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Photo Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 24.0: Banged Up Stars (7pm MST, SNW)

The NHL season is filled with unpredictability. It is impossible to predict injuries, and I doubt anyone in the Stars organization would have expected their blueliners on a seemingly endless train through the infirmary. Four of their regulars are out tonight and their starting goalie, Ben Bishop, will miss his fourth game.

Bishop is a big blow. He is expected to return this weekend, but the Stars will try to get through the week without him. The other major loss was 25-minute-man John Klingberg. He finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting last season and was off to another great start with 13 points in 16 games before injuring his hand. He is one of the best puck moving and mobile defenders in the NHL and the Stars have missed him over the past eight games.

They are also without Stephen Johns, Marc Methot and Connor Carrick. In their absence rookie phenom Miro Heiskanen has filled in admirably. The 19-year-old rookie is playing 22:46/game and has faced many of the top players in the NHL. He had a 4-6-10 in 24 games and he has been a positive player at 5×5. The Stars look to have found a gem in Heiskanen.

As good as he’s been, the Stars top-four consists of him, Esa Lindell, Roman Polak and rookie Gavin Bayreuther. Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ lines need to create some offence against them.

Edmonton only has 12 goals in their previous five games. They haven’t produced much offensively, but have allowed 20 goals. They need to bear down at both ends of the rink. If Kyle Brodziak hits the wide open net late in their third period v. Anaheim, the Oilers would have won. Their forwards have missed too many great opportunities.

It is imperative they start burying their great scoring chances. If a defender gets beat people get upset and expect more, and I believe the same should be expected of forwards when they have a great scoring chance.

Anton Khudobin is not Ben Bishop. He is a quality backup goalie, but has never been a starter and he’s allowed 12 goals in the three games without Bishop. The Oilers shooters can’t give him any confidence. When a great chance presents itself, they need to bury it.

As for matchups, expect Connor McDavid’s line to see a lot of the Stars top trio of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov. Ken Hitchcock said this morning the reason he has promoted Alex Chiasson onto the top line is because many teams are loading up one line and you have to outscore them.

LINEUP…

Oilers

Draisaitl-McDavid-Chiasson
Caggiula-RNH-Puljujarvi
Lucic-Brodziak-Kassian
Khaira-Spooner-P.Russell

Klefbom-Larsson
Nurse-Russell
Gravel-Benning

Koskinen

Chiasson gets a bump to the top line, which is great for him, but he and RNH were just starting to get some chemistry and production on the second line. I’d have kept them together and moved Caggiula back to the top line. He fits in better than Spooner does because he’s a better forechecker and puck retriever for McDavid and Draisaitl. Right now though Chiasson’s stick is red hot so Ken Hitchcock wants to load up one line, similar to tonight’s opposition.

I appreciated the response from Fleury. He’s bang on. Most young players need to adjust their work ethic. It isn’t that they aren’t working hard, but they aren’t working hard at an NHL level. It is different than junior or the minors. Hitchcock will be encouraging Puljujarvi to increase his intensity and desire tonight.

Stars

Benn-Seguin-Radulov
Hintz-Spezza-Shore
Nichushkin-Faksa-Pitlick
Janmark-Dickinson-Comeau

Lindell-Heiskanen
Bayreuther-Polak
Hanley-Fedun

Khudobin

I suspect Hitchcock would like to get the RNH line out against Spezza’s line. The Faksa line, especially he and Tyler Pitlick, were great against top lines last year, and you can expect they will see McDavid at times as well.

The Oilers need to use their speed and try to take advantage of Polak. He is a veteran and knows how to play, but if you can get him in open space they will have a better chance to create scoring opportunities.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Blackout Dallas:

12-10-2 isn’t a terrible spot for the Dallas Stars to be in through 24 games in the 2018-19 season, but it’s also not the best spot.

The Stars currently sit with 24 points in the middle of an overloaded Western Conference playoff race. It’s a good enough mark to hold them in the second wild card spot, but with four points separating them from a top-three spot in the Central division and four teams within four points just below them, it would be folly for Dallas to feel comfortable with 58 games to go in the year.

Now, the Stars have been dealt a pretty tough hand. After trying to balance a first-year head coach and new additions to the roster, Dallas has suffered through the majority of their starting defense (including John Klingberg, Stephen Johns, and Marc Methot) and top players like Alexander Radulov and Ben Bishop missing different portions of the season.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

Game Day Prediction: Oilers get a much needed victory with a 5-3 win.

Obvious Game Day Prediction: The PP continues its hot streak by scoring a PP goal in five of their previous six games. Chiasson scores his 11th of the season.

Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: Dallas is the only team in the NHL McDavid is averaging a goal-per-game against. He scores his eighth goal eight games against the Stars. In fact he scores twice.

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