The Dallas Stars did what they needed to do in St. Louis by splitting the first two games of their Round 2 series.
That is always the goal when a team opens on the road because it swings home-ice advantage back in their favor.
What was perhaps most impressive about the Stars’ ability to take one of those two games is that they did it with almost no production from their top line that is centered by Tyler Seguin. That is the type of development that would have completely sunk their chances just a couple of months ago.
The trio of Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov combined for zero even-strength points in the two games (Benn did score on the power play late in Game 1) while it was the second line, driven by the surprising performance of Roope Hintz and the always underappreciated brilliance of Mats Zuccarello, that did the damage to even the series in Game 2.
The Seguin-Benn-Radulov line going two games without a goal isn’t really a huge deal on its own, especially after they were so dominant in Round 1 against the Nashville Predators. Your best players aren’t going to score every night, and in Dallas’ case they have carried more than their fair share of the weight throughout most of the 2018-19 season. Because of that nobody should be too concerned about how this series has started for them. But if the Stars are going to win the series and pull off another upset that trio is probably going to have to get going again. A return home might be just what they need to get going because of the matchup opportunities home ice creates.
Specifically, it might get them a little more time away from Ryan O'Reilly, the Blues’ top shutdown center.
O’Reilly was a huge addition for the Blues over the summer because he is one of the league’s better two-way centers.
He is not only a top-line scorer (he finished the season as the Blues’ leading scorer) but has a track record of being able to go against other team’s top players and not only limit their damage, but also play them tough without taking penalties. Put it all together and that is an enormously valuable asset that has been a franchise-changer for the Blues in the short-term.
In their head-to-head matchups season he has been a thorn in the side of the Stars’ top line, especially Seguin at the center spot.
Here is a quick look at Seguin’s head-to-head numbers against O’Reilly this season (regular season and playoffs included, via Natural Stat Trick).
Basically, when he has been on the ice against O’Reilly, whether it has been in St. Louis or Dallas, the Stars have spent more time defending in their own zone and giving up chances than they have attacking and creating chances.
That is not what the Stars want from that group.
Getting home ice and the last change could give Stars coach Jim Montgomery more of an opportunity to get Seguin’s line away from O’Reilly, which is something he did in their last home game against the Blues, when Seguin played only three minutes of 5-on-5 time against him.
The matchup game can be an important one in a best-of-seven series, and especially in any one individual game, but it can also tricky one because you don’t want to get so caught up in that you hold your top players back and keep them off the ice because you are afraid of a matchup.
Both players are probably going to play 19-22 minutes each game and it is a given that their paths, at some point, are going to cross. Especially during the flow of the game when teams are changing on the fly. The only time you can really dictate it is during faceoffs. But so far this season it has been pretty clear that O’Reilly has done his part to limit what Seguin and the Stars’ top line can do. If the Stars can avoid that matchup for even a few minutes each game in this series when they have home ice it might help create an extra goal or two that could swing the series in their favor.
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