Game Preview: Avalanche – Stars

Who: Dallas Stars (2-2-0)

When: Tonight, 9:00PM EST

The Dangermen: Leading the charge for the visiting Texans is the man who couldn’t keep himself out of the headlines during the summer – Tyler Seguin. After a surprising trade from Boston, fresh off of a Stanley Cup Final loss, and a homophobic slur on Twitter, Seguin has come to play so far this season. He leads the team with six points through the first four games and is forming a nice rapport with Jamie Benn.

Oct 11, 2013; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin (91) takes a shot on net during the third period at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Fred Greenslade-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Benn, many expect big things of him this year now that he’s back on the wing and his responsibilities are “score” and “wreak havoc on everyone”. He’s only scored once so far this season, but he’s third on the team with four points.

Ahead of him? Surprise story Alex Chiasson. He leads the team with three goals in four games and has given the second line a nice boost since there isn’t much production past Benn and Seguin. Can he keep that up? That’s the big story for him.

There’s some firepower behind those three but so far, it hasn’t produced. Ray Whitney is a proven, solid veteran good for somewhere around 40-50 points, Rich Peverly is on the wing with Seguin and Benn so it could just be a matter of time before he starts going, and Shawn Horcoff is a veteran role player who should pick up the pace as the season moves on.

Then there’s rookie Valeri Nichushkin. He’s been held off the score sheet so far and averages a little under 15 minutes per game so far, but he’s the most dynamic player the Stars have and has the ability to go end-to-end at any moment. He’s one to watch for sure.

The Defenders: Dallas is so-so defensively in terms of statistics; they are middle of the pack in goals against per game, but they give up the second most shots per game in the league with 36.2 per.

Leading that group is the top pairing of Alex Goligoski and Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar is the old goat; the veteran presence on the blue line there to provide a calming presence. He’s also leading the team in time on ice per game at just a shade over 20 minutes.  Goligoski is the defacto #1 for this group. He’s offensively gifted and a good skater, but he’s prone to turnovers and can be pushed around by bigger forwards. A team like the Avs could certainly get to him.

Brendan Dillon leads the defense in points so far with three in his first four games, with Jordie Benn the only other defender having multiple points. The group as a whole has been having a rough go of things early on; they were overwhelmed Saturday by the Minnesota Wild, going down 4-0 by the midway point of the game.

This group could really have trouble with an Avalanche forward group that flies all over the ice, causing pressure with their speed and physicality. It’ll be interesting to see how the Stars defense holds up to that pressure.

Puck Stoppers Inc.:  This was Kari Lehtonen, who is pretty good on the whole, but he’s on the injured reserve now with the dreaded lower-body injury. Replacing him is backup Dan Ellis and his ugly loss in his only appearance against Minnesota.

Ellis is a career backup; a stop gap and little more than that. If Lehtonen is out any real length of time, the Stars could be forced to turn to Ellis regularly and could find themselves in a heap of trouble. He’s on his fifth team (AHL included) since 2007/08 and his career 2.73 GAA can’t inspire a ton of confidence.

Oct 11, 2013; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Dallas Stars goaltender Dan Ellis (30) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane (9) during the third period at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Fred Greenslade-USA TODAY Sports

Behind him is the messiah, the beloved American Hero – Jack Campbell. Stars fans have been salivating over his potential for awhile now and should Lehtonen miss an extended amount of time, the Stars could turn to young Campbell.  He’s big, athletic, and very confident in his game. It’s just a matter of working out the kinks for him at this point.

Stay tuned.

How the Avs match up: The Avs have to be salivating about this game. The Stars are a young, learning team with a defense that doesn’t respond well to pressure starting a journeyman backup goaltender.

This will obviously be a game the forwards are looking forward to. If they continue to use their speed and physicality to attack the opposing defense, they should find a ton of success tonight. High energy, high effort.

The defense will need to cut down on the chances they surrendered against Washington. Varlamov has been lights out but making it so that he doesn’t have to be needs to be the mindset of the defense every night.

Key Matchup: Avs attacking forwards vs Dallas defense.

Cower in fear if: The Stars defense responds to the pressure with quick passes and heads up play.

The Avs don’t do much better limiting opportunities in front of Varly.

Dan Ellis decides to play his nards off.

Laugh maniacally if: Varlamov plays his nards off. (this may just stay here forever and ever)

The defense is on lockdown.

The Dallas defense is not responding well to the aggressiveness of Colorado’s forwards.

Silly predictions: Varly looks a little more human, but not so much that it worries anyone; Matt Duchene goes off for a three-point night; Nichushkin has at least one chance that leaves Avs fans gasping; MacKinnon extends his team points lead.

Final:  5-2 Avalanche

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

Topics: 2013-14 Season, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Jamie Benn, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, NHL, Semyon Varlamov, Tyler Seguin, Valeri Nichushkin

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