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Defense could be key as Stars try to quiet Oilers' top scorers

Dallas faces another tough matchup with McDavid and Draisaitl, plus an elite Edmonton power play

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
Stars (19-11-4) vs. Oilers (18-13-4)

7:30 p.m., American Airlines Center

TV: FOX Sports Southwest PLUS

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

 

DALLAS -- The Stars lead the NHL in goals against average at 2.29 and rank third on the penalty kill at 85.7 percent. That will be important tonight against the Edmonton Oilers, who have the league's two leading scorers in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and the NHL's top power play at 32.4 percent.

Much of the focus for the game then will be on the Stars' defense, including 20-year-old Miro Heiskanen, who will likely get plenty of ice time against McDavid.

Asked if Heiskanen is the key to defending against the Oilers, Stars coach Rick Bowness said of McDavid: "He plays so many minutes, he's such an unreal athlete, his shifts are long, so you've got to have a couple of pairings to go at him. It won't just be Miro, it will be a lot of Esa (Lindell), John (Klingberg), Big Rig (Jamie Oleksiak) can handle him.

"Honestly, we have full confidence in all three pairings. Roman (Polak) and Andrej (Sekera) are veterans, they can play against anybody," he added. "It's not one of those scenarios where we're in a mass panic to get the right D out there, because we have confidence in all of them. Would we like to get Miro and Esa out there as much as we can? Absolutely. But sometimes in the flow of the game, there's no whistles and there's specialty teams, you're not always going to get that. When we don't get that, we still have faith in whoever is on the ice."

Oleksiak has come into focus a little more because he had a pretty goal on Saturday against Nashville, but Bowness said he has liked the play of the 26-year-old defenseman all season. Oleksiak was drafted by the Stars, struggled with his development, was traded to Pittsburgh, and returned last season in a trade. The 6-foot-7 blueliner said he learned a lot with the Penguins, and Bowness has been happy with Oleksiak since his return.

Video: EDM@DAL: Oleksiak on staying consistent this season

"Jamie Oleksiak, he's probably one of our most underrated players right now," Bowness said. "He has played very, very well all year for us. He's been very consistent. He can skate, he's doing everything we need him to do. He's earned the minutes, he's earned that top-four ranking."

Oleksiak has played more than 15 minutes in each of the past four games, including 18:38 against the Islanders. Bowness said Oleksiak's importance was underscored when he was hurt in the playoffs last season.

"If you go back to last year, we missed him in that playoff series with St. Louis. We did," Bowness said. "He was an important part of our team as the season went on. When he went down in the playoff series, that hurt us. He's picked up where he left off from last year, so good for him."

Oleksiak said the Stars have a great deal of confidence in their game plan, and that helps when facing players like McDavid and Draisaitl.

"Obviously those two guys are having a pretty good year, so you have to be aware when they're on the ice," Oleksiak said. "But I think overall, we're more focused on our game where we have to go. I think when we play our five-man game and we support each other pretty well, and we stick to our system, we can compete with any team in the league."

 

What to watch

Bowness has used three different top lines in his first three games as head coach, with Mattias Janmark between Jamie Ben and Tyler Seguin in the first game, Roope Hintz taking the center spot late in the second game, and then Seguin switching to center between Benn and Alexander Radulov in the third game.

Tonight, the plan is to start with the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line, and see where that goes. Bowness said he looks at Benn and Seguin as a duo, and that the third man on the line can switch in and switch out. It's a similar situation to what he saw when he was an assistant coach in Vancouver with the Sedin twins.

"As long as those two guys are going, the third guy is going to have to be able to read off of them and be able to keep up with them in terms of speed and in terms of hockey sense," Bowness said.

"The third guy with them is going to change all of the time. It's no different than when we were in Vancouver and we had the twins. That right winger changed all of the time; the duos pretty much stay the same."

 

[READ MORE: Interim coach Rick Bowness still adjusting to new role as Stars' guiding hand]

 

Radulov has been playing well no matter who he is with. Since he received a healthy scratch for one game, he has scored in four straight games and has one goal and five assists in that span. Radulov had two assists against Nashville in a 4-1 win Saturday.

"Rads was a hungry guy today," Bowness said. "When he's hungry, with his intensity, he's an effective player and he's hard to play against because he's just a dog on a bone. He won't let go. He's going to stay on that puck and keep fighting, so give him credit."

Radulov said he's just trying to play smart hockey.

"Sometimes it's clicking, sometimes it's going your way," he said. "It's a long season. There's going to be sometimes when things are not going to go your way. You just have to continue working, compete and win those little battles in the corners, in the zone, on the blue lines, on the boards. Simple as that."

Video: EDM@DAL: Bowness breaks down matchup with Oilers

 

Bishop back in net; Janmark returns to lineup

Ben Bishop is back in net after Anton Khudobin won in Nashville Saturday.

Bishop is 6-1-2 in his past nine decisions. He is 9-3-2 at home with a 1.74 GAA and .944 save percentage. He is 7-2-1 in his career against Edmonton with a 2.17 GAA and .931 save percentage.

Mattias Janmark is expected to return to the lineup after missing Saturday's game with an upper body injury. He is slotted as the left wing on the second line to start the game.

Video: NJD@DAL: Bishop fends off Simmonds, Hughes in tight

 

By the numbers
87.9

Dallas ranks second in the NHL in home penalty kill at 87.9 percent. Edmonton ranks first overall on the power play at 32.4 percent and also ranks first in road power play at 32.6 percent.

 

57

Edmonton's McDavid leads the NHL in scoring with 57 points (20 goals, 37 assists). He has 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 10 career games against the Stars.

 

37

Edmonton has allowed 37 first-period goals, the most in the NHL. Dallas has allowed 18 first-period goals, fewest in the league

 
 
He said it

"We're worried about how we play. They're a deep team; they have Corey Perry on the fourth line, but we have to play our game. We recognize who we're playing against, their skill sets and what they do, but ultimately we have to play our game to give ourselves a chance to win."

-- Oilers, and former Stars, coach Dave Tippett on Edmonton's mindset entering tonight

 

Stars projected lineup

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov

Mattias Janmark - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski

Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau

Denis Gurianov - Jason Dickinson - Corey Perry

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen

Andrej Sekera - Roman Polak

Ben Bishop

Anton Khudobin

Scratched: D Taylor Fedun, C Justin Dowling

Injured: D Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches), C Martin Hanzal (back)

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Edmonton Oilers as they return home to American Airlines Center tonight at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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