Red Wings-Stars series set-up: Limited information makes getting a ‘read’ on either team proves difficult

The Detroit Red Wings will face the Dallas Stars in Dallas for the next two games (Tuesday and Thursday at 8:30 PM EST, on Fox Sports Detroit and 97.1 the Ticket). As the Red Wings attempt to rally from 2 straight losses, an absence of secondary scoring and a string of COVID-related absences (see: Filip Zadina, Robby Fabbri, Adam Erne, Jon Merrill and Sam Gagner)…

Trying to sort out the Stars is difficult for a simple reason: three weeks into the 2020-2021 season, Dallas has only played twice due to COVID issues of their own. Dallas won 7-0 against the Nashville Predators last Friday, and they won 3-2 over Nashville on Sunday.

Despite missing captain Jamie Benn due to a leg injury and Blake Comeau to COVID protocols, Dallas’ strong start yielded “Second Star” status for Joe Pavelski, who’s posted 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points over the course of the Stars’ first two games.

Dallas didn’t practice on Monday, so there’s no update on Benn’s status, no update regarding their COVID issues or the lack thereof.

As you may know by now, the Red Wings’ media corps isn’t traveling with the team, either, so we got a pair of Zoom calls with Anthony Mantha and Jeff Blashill today, and a single Tweet showing Troy Stecher picking out a stick from the Wings’ stick rack during practice today.

Long story long, it takes some digging to turn up context for Tuesday’s game. Let’s start with the Stars’ injury situation, per’s Mike Heika

The Stars were missing Jamie Benn (lower body), Joel Kiviranta (lower body) and Blake Comeau (COVID protocol), so they called up Tanner Kero from the taxi squad and gave the 28-year-old his first NHL game since 2018.

Kero played 13:06 and looked solid.

Bowness said he believes in the depth of the taxi squad and liked what he saw from Kero. Rhett Gardner and Joel L’Esperance are other forwards available to be called up right now.

“We had to put some experience there,” Bowness said of the decision to go with Kero. “Gardner has played very well for us when he’s played, and you’re going to see him at some point. You’re going to see them all, at some point. But the decision was really based on (Kero) had a good camp and the experience he has.”

Kero was returned to the taxi squad Monday, meaning Benn or Comeau might be ready to play soon.

The Stars’ lineup from Sunday’s game, again, per Heika (and yes, Anton Khubodin has started both games for the Stars thus far)…

And here are the highlights from Sunday’s 3-2 Stars win over Nashville (both Stars games were played in Dallas):

Last Friday’s game was an emotional win for the Stars, and it included pomp and circumstance, per the Associated Press’s recap of that 7-0 game

Anton Khudobin stared upward before Dallas’ delayed season opener, watching as the Stars’ Western Conference championship banner was unveiled high above the ice.

The goalie then stopped 34 shots in his first season-opening start, and Dallas scored five power-play goals in a 7-0 win over the Nashville Predators on Friday night.

”First game, it was emotional at the start,” said Khudobin, who later heard his name chanted by the 4,214 fans in attendance for what was his 100th career regular-season win and ninth shutout. ”Unbelievable. … That was a special moment.”

Joe Pavelski had two goals and two assists and Alexander Radulov also scored twice for the Stars, who had a scoreless first period. Joel Kiviranta had a goal and an assist.

Five of Dallas’ goals came in the second, including three on the power play and an unassisted short-handed wrist shot by Esa Lindell.

”Too many easy shots got through and they made some nice tip plays, credit to them in that situation when they made them,” Nashville coach John Hynes said.

”We were little out of sorts in that first period, which was to be expected, but we played through it, and Doby made the big saves,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. ”It was the power play that got us going in the second … 5-on-3, and then get another quick one. That gave everyone a huge boost.”

But Sunday’s game was closer, as noted, again, by the Associated Press:

Joe Pavelski helped the Dallas Stars tie the NHL record for power-play goals in the first two games, scoring one of three with the man advantage in another victory over the Nashville Predators, 3-2 on Sunday night.

Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz also scored on the power play after the Stars went 5 of 8 with the man advantage in a 7-0 victory over the Predators in their delayed opener. Dallas was 3 of 4 on the power play this time.

The eight power-play goals for the defending Western Conference champions in the first two games tied the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings from 1942-43, when teams could score an unlimited number of goals on one power play.

”We’ve kind of done it different ways as far as traffic and tips and just some good plays along the way,” Pavelski said. ”It’s clicking. It’s good to see when the puck’s going in. You’ve just got to stay with it. You can’t get too cute with it.”

Pavelski also had the primary assist on the goals by Gurianov and Hintz, giving him seven points through two games after he had two goals and two assists in the opener. Hintz had two assists as well.

Filip Forsberg beat Anton Khudobin for the first time in nearly 90 minutes to start the Dallas goalie’s season after the Stars were called for too many men on the ice in the second period.’s Robby Stanley picks up the narrative from there:

Denis Gurianov gave the Stars a 1-0 lead at 14:55 of the first period. He took a pass from Pavelski and beat goalie Juuse Saros from the right face-off circle.

“I think what we’re doing so well is, yeah, we can move the puck, but we see we can attack in different ways, shooting from the point, having seam plays, coming down low, down-low plays,” Dallas defenseman John Klingberg said. “There’s a lot of different options there, and I feel like on the breakouts and entries, we’ve got a lot of options there too and a lot of speed. We feel good about it right now, and it’s going to have to keep being that way.”

Hintz made it 2-0 at 6:36 of the second period on a wrist shot from the left circle. It was his first goal of the season.

Filip Forsberg scored on a Predators power play to make it 2-1 at 14:55. He took a cross-ice pass from Arvidsson and beat goalie Anton Khudobin with a wrist shot from the right face-off dot.

Pavelski gave the Stars a 3-1 lead at 4:51 of the third period when he one-timed a pass from Hintz. Pavelski has seven points (three goals, four assists) in the first two games.

“I think the [power play] was definitely something we focused on probably going all the way back to the bubble (in Edmonton for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs) when we came back (after the 2019-20 season was paused due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus),” Pavelski said. “It was something we worked on every day leading up to it. Coming back into this camp, it was similar. We kind of touched on it and tried to get it as clean and have good execution on it as fast as we could. With no games, it’s been great to see the puck move the way it has.”

Mikael Granlund scored at 9:59 to get the Predators within 3-2. It was his first goal.

So, on Sunday, Dallas went up 2-0, then 3-1, and held on, as the Dallas News’s Matthew DeFranks notes:

For the first time this season, the Stars had to close out a game. In the opener against Nashville, they entered the third period with a five-goal lead. They didn’t have that luxury Sunday.

“It was a good test for us and one that I think we passed early on,” Pavelski said. “That was good to see that. Found a little bit different way to play in that third and got the job done.”

Nashville made a push with Mikael Granlund’s deflected goal midway through the third period, and then Viktor Arvidsson twice was robbed by Anton Khudobin in the game’s final minutes on acrobatic saves.

“He’s making huge saves, he’s making key saves at the right time,” coach Rick Bowness said. “In that last minute, the scramble was on. You know he’s going to compete, you know he’s going to do everything he can to stop the puck. We don’t win that third period without Dobby in the net. He did a fantastic job for us.”

In the third period, the Predators outshot the Stars 10-5 and had a 0.76-0.54 edge in expected goals, according to Natural Stat Trick. Dallas had more shot attempts (20-17) and scoring chances (10-7), though.

As it turns out, the Stars are skating without Benn, Kiviranta, Comeau and Tyler Seguin, who had offseason hip surgery, but they managed to battle through their lack of depth up front, as DeFranks noted in his main recap

“Give our guys credit for holding on and weathering the storm,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “We did a good job, but there’s a lot of good teaching points from that third period. There’s going to be a lot of desperate hockey coming up, and there’s going to be a lot of one-goal, tight games. You’ve got to learn to play through it.”

The Stars’ power play made sure that Dallas began the season 2-0-0 for the second time in three seasons.

Dallas went 3 for 4 on the power play after going 5 for 8 on Friday night. In the last three seasons, the Stars scored at least three power-play goals in two games. They’ve done it in two games this season.

“What we’re doing so well is, yeah we move the puck, but we think that we can attack in different ways: shooting from the points, having seam plays, coming down low,” defenseman John Klingberg said. “It’s a lot of different options there, and I feel like the breakouts and the entries, we have a lot of options there too.”

Those options include a rookie forward who stepped up over the course of the Stars’ first two games, per The Athletic’s Saad Yousuf:

Joe Pavelski is on a torrid points pace and Anton Khudobin was the backbone once again. We’ll get to those guys in just a bit but there needs to be a discussion about Ty Dellandrea.

The Stars began training camp with three groups: An NHL group, a special teams group and an AHL group. Dellandrea started camp practicing with the latter two. Multiple people in the organization said that he would need to really make a statement in camp in order to lock up an NHL roster spot. Then COVID-19 hit and the Stars’ roster was depleted. Dellandrea got more opportunities and continued to trend upward. In the final week of camp, it became clear that the Stars would be without Blake Comeau, who remains on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. Bowness slid him in that role and Dellandrea has not disappointed.

Dellandrea was solid Friday in his first NHL game. He wasn’t very noticeable but that’s a good thing, especially on the checking line. On Sunday, he stood out. He led Stars forwards with two blocked shots and Nashville looked to make it a point to try and bully him. They were hitting him every opportunity they got and the hits weren’t exactly gentle shoulder taps. Dellandrea got up every time and never looked rattled. He’s played a measured two games but he hasn’t been a liability.

Yousuf added this to the mix…

Injury speculation is a dangerous game because most of the time, we don’t have anywhere near the full information. The Stars’ 2020 postseason run should have taught everybody that. But if we’re just connecting dots, the fact that Joel Kiviranta was placed on IR on Sunday morning (retroactive to Jan. 22) and Benn was not, in addition to him publicly being labeled a game-time decision, are encouraging signs. After the game, Bowness said Benn will come in for treatment Monday and the hope is that he can rejoin the team Tuesday morning.

We’ll wrap this preview up with this from the Stars’ website’s staff:

The Stars come into Tuesday’s matchup boasting a four-game home winning streak (4-0-0) against Detroit, while also earning points in each of the last six games (4-0-2) against them at American Airlines Center.

Dallas owns a 5-2-0 record over its last seven games against the Red Wings and has points in seven of the last 10 (6-3-1) against them.

Forward Roope Hintz led the Stars with four points (3-1=4) in two games against Detroit last season, having recorded points in each of his last two games against them.

Defenseman Esa Lindell notched three assists (0-3=3) against the Red Wings in 2019-20 and has now recorded points (1-7=8) in six of eight career games against them.

Forward Joe Pavelski earned two points (1-1=2) against the Red Wings last season and has tallied points (4-3=7) in three of his last four games against them.

[sarcasm] So much encouraging news for a Red Wings team on an 0-and-2 slide and facing a 2-and-4 record heading into a pair of games against the streaking Stanley Cup Finalists. [/sarcasm]

In all seriousness, if the Wings get a split out of the Stars, and play better from the first game to the second game–with a little secondary scoring thrown in, perhaps–we can suggest that things are looking up again. Until then, things feel pretty dreary in Red Wings land on an equally gray and snowy January evening.

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George Malik

My name is George Malik, and I'm the Malik Report's editor/blogger/poster. I have been blogging about the Red Wings since 2006, when MLive hired me to work their SlapShots blog, and I joined Kukla's Korner in 2011 as The Malik Report. I'm starting The Malik Report as a stand-alone site, hoping that having my readers fund the website is indeed the way to go to build a better community and create better content.