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Slowing Draisaitl, McDavid could be tough challenge for Stars

Bowness says it will take a complete team effort to keep the red-hot Oilers' scoring duo contained

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
Stars (37-21-7, 81 points) vs. Oilers (35-23-8, 78 points)

7:30 p.m., American Airlines Center

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

 

DALLAS -- The Stars are one of the best defensive teams in the league with a goalie who gives up 1.37 goals a game at home, but they will be tested hard Tuesday.

The Edmonton Oilers come in with the two leading scorers in the NHL in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid and just beat the Nashville Predators 8-3 on Monday. That's what you call a challenge.

"We want to stay above them, we want to crowd them, we want to make them play in their zone as much as we can," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. "They're clearly elite at a whole 'nother level, and it's going to take a five-man unit to keep them contained. That being said, they're great players, they're on a roll, and they're going to get some chances."

 

[GAME DAY GUIDE: Everything you need to know for Stars vs. Oilers]

 

Draisaitl leads the NHL in scoring with 107 points (43 goals, 64 assists) in 66 games, while McDavid is second with 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 60 games. Oilers coach Dave Tippett has the two playing on different lines and that has helped Edmonton get the most out of its depth players. McDavid is expected to play with former Stars winger James Neal and Tyler Ennis tonight, while Draisaitl is expected to play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto.

That makes checking the top players even tougher.

"They're big, they're fast, they're strong, they've got great skills; hockey IQ is off the charts; they're elite players," Bowness said. "It's going to take five guys and great goaltending to keep them off of the boards."

Video: Bowness gives update on Bishop's status vs. Oilers

The Stars have done that for much of the season, and they should be better tonight. Stephen Johns returns after missing three games with a lower-body injury, and the 6-foot-4, 225-pound defenseman has looked good this year. Johns missed 22 months with post-traumatic headaches, but since returning in January, he has averaged 17:48 and tallied five points (two goals, three assists) in 13 games.

He is expected to play beside Miro Heiskanen, who leads the Stars in time on ice at 23:48, and then Jamie Oleksiak and Andrej Sekera will play on the third pair.

"Stephen is ready to go, and with a team like this … his size, his skating, his puck movement is going to be a huge addition to our team," Bowness said.

 

[READ MORE: Why success at home should bode well for Stars' goaltenders in March]

 

Bowness said the Stars will have to be on top of their game, which went up and down on the road. Dallas struggled in the faceoff circle (winning just 43 percent of their draws against St. Louis) and also spent too much time in its own zone, so both have been addressed on the practice ice and in video since Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Blues.

"We're going to have to have a better night on faceoffs and we're going to have to make sure we don't ice the puck. Then we can control some of the match-ups better," Bowness said.

"We can't get wrapped up in those two (players), we've got to play our game. We want to be aggressive and we want to be pressuring them all over the ice."

 

Rookie tapped to backup Khudobin with Bishop sidelined

Ben Bishop is battling a lower-body injury. Bishop was given a maintenance day and was allowed to miss Monday's practice. Tuesday morning, he worked out hard with goalie coach Jeff Reese, but he will miss Tuesday's game and rest. Jake Oettinger has been called up and is expected to sit on the bench for his first NHL game.

Oettinger, 21, was taken 26th overall in the 2017 NHL entry draft. He is 12-16-4 with the Texas Stars this season with a 2.62 GAA and .912 save percentage.

Video: Jake Oettinger makes an incredible paddle save

"He's got NHL all over him, size, athletic, compete, he's got all of the skills you want in your goaltender," Bowness said. "I haven't seen him play this year, but nothing but great reports."

Bishop could be ready for Thursday's game in Nashville, but Oettinger getting an emergency call-up can be a good side effect of Bishop dealing with his injury.

"It's a little bit of a reward here," Bowness said. "To be around the guys, be in the meetings, sit on the bench and watch the speed of the game. He couldn't have picked a better game watching those two guys come at you. So it's a great eye-opener for him. Sitting at ice level and just watching the size and the speed and the creativity of the players at this level, this will be a good experience for him."

 

Johns returns; Dowling, Polak healthy scratches

Khudobin will make his fourth start in the past five games. That's the busiest stretch of the season for him. He currently leads the NHL in save percentage at .930. He is 16-7-3 with a 2.23 GAA. He is 6-1-0 at home with a 1.37 GAA and .946 save percentage.

With Johns coming in, Roman Polak will get a healthy scratch. Justin Dowling missed 12 games with a lower-body injury and then went on a three-game conditioning stint in the AHL. He's back and is expected to be a healthy scratch tonight.

Video: Lindell on grind of stretch run before facing Oilers

 

By the numbers
29.7

The Oilers lead the NHL in power-play success rate at 29.7 percent and also lead the league in most power play goals at 57. Dallas is 15th in penalty kill success at 80.9 percent.

 

10

The Oilers are second in most shorthanded goals against at 10.

 

.920

Dallas is in a three-way tie for first place in save percentage at .920 with Boston and Arizona.

Video: Dickinson on why it's fun to play this time of year

 

He said it

"He wants it so bad that he overextends himself. You love that part of him, but you also realize it's cutting into the ice time of other players. He gets so wrapped up in the game, he forgets how long he has been on the ice. It's something we have to address, which we did, and he's very honest and open about it."

-- Bowness on how Alexander Radulov is dealing with an 11-game goal drought and how the team has to remind the winger to keep his shifts short. Radulov averaged 1:08 per shift Saturday. Tyler Seguin averaged 39 seconds per shift.

 

Stars projected lineup

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Corey Perry

Roope Hintz - Jason Dickinson - Denis Gurianov

Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau

Mattias Janmark - Joe Pavelski - Alexander Radulov

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Miro Heiskanen - Stephen Johns

Jamie Oleksiak - Andrej Sekera

Anton Khudobin

Jake Oettinger

Scratched: C Justin Dowling, D Roman Polak, D Taylor Fedun

Injured: G Ben Bishop (lower body), C Martin Hanzal (back)

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars battle the Edmonton Oilers when they return home to American Airlines Center on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The first 5,000 fans receive a limited-edition poster presented by Dr Pepper. 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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