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Round robin preview: Taking a closer look at Vegas’ opponents in the upcoming tournament

The Knights will square off against St. Louis, Colorado and Dallas.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

As one of the top four teams by points percentage in the Western Conference, the Vegas Golden Knights will compete in a round-robin tournament when the NHL returns Aug. 1.

Vegas (.606) will play one game against each of the St. Louis Blues (.662), Colorado Avalanche (.657) and Dallas Stars (.594) to determine seeding for the top of the conference.

The other eight qualifying teams in the west will compete in best-of-five series to determine seeds 5-8 for when the Stanley Cup Playoffs officially begin Aug. 11.

When the NHL returns next month, it will have been almost five months since the league paused the 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though it’s impossible to know how this will affect players and teams in the long run, the Knights still have to prepare for and compete in three separate contests. Here’s an overview of each of Vegas’ opponents in the upcoming tournament. In case you’re in need of a refresher on everything that’s happened this year, check out our season recap for a rundown of Vegas’ 2019-20 campaign.

St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues are the reigning champions after securing the franchise’s first Stanley Cup last June, defeating the Boston Bruins in seven games to take home the trophy.

St. Louis used size, physicality and aggressive forechecking to wear teams down in last year’s playoffs, veering off the more common path of focusing primarily on speed and skill. It proved to be an effective strategy, even if the Stanley Cup Final was a tight series (not to mention Game 7 against Dallas in the second round, which went to double overtime).

The recent five-month break should help the Blues significantly given their shortened offseason.

But despite the lack of rest, the Blues’ strong play carried over into this season, and they’ve been a Cup contender all year.

Even with elite winger Vladimir Tarasenko missing almost the entire season with a dislocated shoulder (he played just 10 games before suffering the injury Oct. 24), the Blues still managed to finish atop the Central Division and the entire Western Conference standings with 94 points and a points percentage of .662 through 71 games. They also finished second in the overall league standings behind only Boston (ironically).

Considered one of the favorites coming out of the west, the Blues have what it takes to make another legitimate push. Though they were forced to shut down practices earlier this month due to a small COVID-19 outbreak (four players and one coach tested positive), the Blues will aim to repeat last year’s effort now that they’re healthy, rested and raring to go.

By the numbers

Overall record: 42-19-10
Goals for per game (NHL rank): 3.14 (14)
Goals against per game (NHL rank): 2.68 (5)
Power play (NHL rank): 24.3 percent (3)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 79.3 percent (18)
2019-20 record against Vegas: 1-0-2
All-time record against Vegas: 5-0-4
2019-20 record against Colorado: 2-2-0
2019-29 record against Dallas: 4-0-1
Leading scorers: O’Reilly (12-49—61), Perron (25-35—60), Schenn (25-33—58)
Top CF%*: Dunn (55.21), Pietrangelo (53.13), O’Reilly (52.79), Schwartz (52.44)
*Minimum 30 games played

Season recap

At the time of the NHL pause, the Blues had won 10 of 12 games. Like Vegas, the Blues managed an eight-game winning streak late in the season and were riding a wave of momentum up until the league shut things down in early March.

However, unlike Vegas, the Blues also had a seven-game winning streak in late October/early November as well as another eight-game winning streak in December. Needless to say, the Blues got hot on several occasions, which helped them remain a top team all year.

Ryan O’Reilly led the team in scoring for the second year in a row, finishing the season with 61 points in 71 games; former Knights forward David Perron came in a close second (60), while Brayden Schenn (58) and Jaden Schwartz (57) filled out the top four. The Blues had three 20-goal scorers, 11 players with double-digit goal totals and five 50-point players on the roster, even without Tarasenko.

The Russian winger was roughly a week away from returning when the season was suspended, but the extra time likely helped him make a more complete recovery. He’s been activated from injured reserve and is eligible to return for St. Louis’ game against Colorado on Aug. 2.

But the Blues are a deep and talented team even without the five-time 30-goal scorer.

In Tarasenko’s absence, young players like Robert Thomas and Zach Sanford stepped up. Thomas emerged as a strong third-line center, giving the Blues excellent depth up the middle, and he led all Blues skaters in points per 60 (2.46) and primary assists per 60 (1.3) at 5-on-5.

Sanford poured on the scoring at the end of the season, netting four goals in one game against Vegas and matching his goal total from 2018-19 (8) in just the final 15 games of the 2019-20 regular season, ultimately doubling his previous career high with 16 on the season.

Ivan Barbashev also had a strong season, matching his production from 2018-19 in 11 fewer games; however, he may leave the team at some point as he’s expecting the birth of his child in August. As such, it could be MacKenzie MacEachern on the fourth line in the round robin.

Captain Alex Pietrangelo led a deep blue line featuring the likes of Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Vince Dunn and Carl Gunnarsson. The team will be without Jay Bouwmeester, who will not play after collapsing on the bench in a game in February. However, the deadline acquisition of Marco Scandella bolstered one of the stronger defense corps in the league. Pietrangelo is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, so he should be plenty motivated to help the team pull off the repeat, especially since this could be his last hurrah in St. Louis.

But it’s hard to talk about the Blues’ success without mentioning goaltender Jordan Binnington, who played a huge role in the team’s drastic turnaround in last year’s regular season, in claiming the ultimate prize and in making this team a true threat in the second season.

In the 2018-19 campaign, the Blues had the worst record in the NHL on Jan. 3; Binnington made his first career NHL start on Jan. 7, recording a 3-0 shutout victory against the Flyers one night after the “Play Gloria” phenomenon was born in a Philadelphia bar. Binnington went on to win 23 more games, finishing the regular season with a 24-5-1 record, a 1.89 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and five shutouts. He started every playoff game for St. Louis and came away with the all-important 16th win.

This season was a little different.

Binnington actually was outperformed by “backup” Jake Allen, who was the team’s starter before Binnington emerged last season. Binnington’s play started to improve down the stretch, but Allen had the better numbers on the year.

2019-20 Goalie Comparison: St. Louis

Player GP Starts Wins Losses OT SO GAA SV% HDSV% (5v5) GSAA
Player GP Starts Wins Losses OT SO GAA SV% HDSV% (5v5) GSAA
Binnington 50 50 30 13 7 3 2.56 0.912 0.865 3.25
Allen 24 21 12 6 3 2 2.15 0.927 0.894 11.04

Even so, though both netminders helped the Blues be a top-five team in goal differential (+32), there’s every reason to believe Binnington will return to form once the playoffs start.

2019-20 matchups: St. Louis vs. Vegas

You would think that with strong goaltending on both sides of this matchup, games between these two teams would be tightly-checked and low-scoring affairs, but that was not the case this season. In fact, arguably two of Vegas’ most exciting games of the year came against the Blues, and both were high-scoring overtime victories for the Knights. Here’s a recap of each of the three games from the 2019-20 regular season.

Dec. 12, 2019: Vegas @ St. Louis (4-2 STL)

St. Louis got on the board first with a goal from MacEachern, but it took Max Pacioretty just 25 seconds to answer, making it a 1-1 game 5:17 into the contest. William Carrier potted his fourth of the season to put the Knights ahead 2-1, a lead the Knights carried (pun intended) into intermission.

However, a three-goal second period, including a quick strike by Oskar Sundqvist to tie the game at 2-2 less than two minutes into the middle frame, gave the Blues the edge in Vegas’ 4-2 loss. Sundqvist had yet another multi-point performance against Vegas.

Recap
Highlights

Jan. 4, 2020: Vegas vs. St. Louis (5-4 VGK, OT)

In one of the most exciting games of the season, Vegas was able to overcome a three-goal deficit and win for the first time in franchise history. It was the Knights’ fourth consecutive win at the time.

Once again, the Knights gave up three goals in a single period; this time, it was the first. It was the start of a trend as the Knights went on to fall into a 3-0 hole in each of the next three games. However, unlike the next three games (losses to Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Columbus), this time Vegas pulled off the comeback.

Though Pietrangelo, Schwartz and Sundqvist gave the Blues a commanding 3-0 lead after 20 minutes, the Knights made a second-period push with goals from Ryan Reaves and Paul Stastny, both former Blues. Nicolas Roy then knotted things up at 3-3 just over three minutes into the third period, and Reilly Smith scored Vegas’ fourth unanswered goal to give the Knights their first lead of the game at 9:50. But Perron corrected course for St. Louis exactly three minutes later, making it a 4-4 game thanks to his power-play goal, his third point of the night.

Just under three minutes into overtime, Chandler Stephenson completed the comeback with a game-winning breakaway tally. Stephenson poked the puck away from Thomas in the Knights’ end, used his speed to set up a clean breakaway for himself and beat Allen five-hole with 1:59 left in extra time.

This turned out to be Gerard Gallant’s last win as head coach of the Golden Knights, and it was certainly a memorable one.

Recap
Highlights

Feb. 13, 2020: Vegas vs. St. Louis (6-5 VGK, OT)

In yet another electric game against St. Louis, the Knights and Blues went back and forth and combined for 11 goals in a barn-burner thriller.

The Knights outshot St. Louis 52-24, but Sanford scored four goals to keep this a competitive game.

He opened the scoring just 25 seconds into the game and ended up sandwiching two goals from Pacioretty, making it a 2-2 game midway through the opening frame. The Blues took a 3-2 lead when MacEachern scored on a double deflection in the final five minutes of the first.

Sanford opened the second period with yet another goal, netting the first hat trick of his NHL career. With just 61 seconds left in the period, however, Jonathan Marchessault brought Vegas within one with a power-play strike, making it 4-3 after two.

Nate Schmidt followed suit 6:33 into the third as the Knights fought back from the two-goal deficit to even things up at 4-4. However, Sanford wasn’t finished. His fourth goal of the game gave the Blues the lead once again as he scored at 11:45 of the third. But an Alex Tuch deflection in the slot hit the reset button once again, ultimately forcing overtime.

Vegas’ power play was the difference in this game, as Marchessault scored his second power-play goal of the game 2:30 into extra time, giving the Knights the 6-5 win.

Pacioretty recorded three points for the second time in four games, Mark Stone finished the night with four helpers and the Knights went 4-for-5 on the man advantage. It was the first of eight straight wins for Vegas; the Blues proceeded to win eight of their next 10 games.

Notably, it was the Blues’ first game following Bouwmeester’s collapse in Anaheim.

After scoring the 10th goal of the game, Tuch sustained an injury in the third period, which forced him out of the lineup for the rest of the regular season.

Recap
Highlights

Not-so-fun fact: The Blues have never lost to Vegas in regulation. Since two out of three games from this season went to extra time, it could be another close one in early August.

Players to watch

The Blues have a lot of talent and a lot of depth, so St. Louis can get production from any player on any line. However, since it’s unclear how much rust Tarasenko will need to shake off after not playing since late October, here are three players to watch when the Knights face the Blues.

Oskar Sundqvist

Sundqvist continues to thrive against the Golden Knights; he had another three points in two games against Vegas this season, giving him eight points in seven career games against the Knights. Plus, with Sundqvist out of the lineup, the Blues had a 5-7-2 record this season, good for a points percentage of .428. When he was in the lineup, however, the points percentage went up to .719 (37-12-8).

Ryan O’Reilly

O’Reilly, last year’s Selke and Conn Smythe recipient who was nominated for the Selke once again this season, helped lead the Blues to the Cup last year and is one of the best two-way forwards in the game. O’Reilly lines up against the other team’s top players, but he still managed to lead the Blues in scoring; he is a true X-factor for St. Louis as he’s always involved, regardless of whether he ends up on the scoresheet. That being said, he still managed 23 points in 26 playoff games last year, willing the Blues to victory in the Final by recording a point in Games 2-7 and scoring five goals in the final four games of that series. He’s a big-game player, so you can never count him out.

David Perron

The former Golden Knights forward had a stellar season with the Blues this year; in fact, it was the second most productive season of his career (trailing only his 66-point campaign with Vegas in 2017-18). Perron’s 60 points were good for second on the team (behind O’Reilly’s 61), and he scored a career-high nine power-play goals and a career-best 27 power-play points. He and Thomas were so effective on the top power-play unit that Tarasenko will start out on the second unit; considering Vegas struggled on the penalty kill this season, that could be a factor in the round-robin matchup. Perron has never been particularly productive in the postseason, but he and O’Reilly form a frightening duo, and he’ll be especially eager against Vegas.

Projected lineup

Schwartz — Schenn — Tarasenko
Sanford — O’Reilly — Perron
Sammy Blais — Thomas — Tyler Bozak
Alexander Steen — Sundqvist — MacEachern/Barbashev

Gunnarsson — Pietrangelo
Scandella — Parayko
Dunn — Faulk

Binnington
Allen

Upcoming schedule

Exhibition game: July 29 at 3:30 p.m. — St. Louis @ Chicago
Aug. 2 at 3:30 p.m. — St. Louis @ Colorado
Aug. 6 — St. Louis vs. Vegas
Aug. 9 — St. Louis vs. Dallas


Colorado Avalanche

Of the three opponents Vegas will face in the round-robin tournament, there’s no doubt that Colorado will be the toughest test. The Avalanche were nothing short of dominant against Vegas this year, and they will have an almost entirely healthy roster when the 2019-20 season resumes.

The Avalanche needed the last several months of rest more than most teams in the league. By the end of the regular season, the Avs were without three top-six forwards and their starting goalie, which opened the door to a goalie controversy that remains in effect.

In fact, the Avs do not expect to name a starting goalie until the actual Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. Colorado will alternate between Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz in scrimmages, the exhibition game and the round-robin contests.

Grubauer has the playoff experience, as he won the Stanley Cup as a backup with Washington in 2018 and went 7-5 for the Avalanche in last year’s playoffs, recording a 2.30 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and one shutout.

Grubauer faced injuries this season, however, and Francouz made the most of his opportunity. His numbers were better than Grubauer’s, though the decision likely will come down to how each plays over the next few weeks.

2019-20 Goalie Comparison: Colorado

Player GP Starts Wins Losses OT SO GAA SV% HDSV% (5v5) GSAA
Player GP Starts Wins Losses OT SO GAA SV% HDSV% (5v5) GSAA
Grubauer 36 36 18 12 4 2 2.63 0.916 0.857 5.36
Francouz 34 31 21 7 4 1 2.41 0.923 0.806 11.11

Now that the team is mostly healthy, the Avs boast one of the best lines in hockey with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, who combined for 261 points in 2018-19.

However, with the offseason additions of Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, along with the trade-deadline acquisition of Vladislav Namestnikov, the makeup of this team is quite different compared to last year’s roster.

With the added talent throughout the lineup, Colorado will be a tough team to beat this postseason.

By the numbers

Overall record: 42-20-8
Goals for per game (NHL rank): 3.37 (4)
Goals against per game (NHL rank): 2.71 (6)
Power play (NHL rank): 19.1 percent (19)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 81.4 percent (13)
2019-20 record against Vegas: 2-0-0
All-time record against Vegas: 5-3-0
2019-20 record against Dallas: 0-2-2
2019-29 record against St. Louis: 2-2-0
Leading scorers: MacKinnon (35-58—93), Makar (12-38—50), Burakovsky (20-25—45)
Top CF%*: Nichushkin (56.01), Calvert (53.98), Bellemare (53.76), MacKinnon (53.31)
*Minimum 20 games played

Season recap

The Avalanche were hot out of the gate, winning their first five games and going 8-2-2 in October. They had a six-game winning streak in late November/early December, a five-game winning streak in early February and, like Vegas and St. Louis, a seven-game winning streak at the end of February heading into March. The Avs finished the regular season on a 9-2-1 run.

Colorado finished second in the Central Division and second in the Western Conference with 92 points and a points percentage of .657, all despite the fact that they were missing many key players throughout the year.

Notable players who missed extended time include forwards Rantanen (28 games), Kadri (19 games), Landeskog (16 games) and Burakovsky (12 games) as well as defenseman Makar (13 games). Those were the team’s top five scorers after MacKinnon, who is a Hart Memorial Trophy nominee once again this season after recording 93 points in 69 games (43 more than Makar, who finished second on the team with 50).

The Avs also were without Matt Calvert for 20 games and Erik Johnson for 11. Calvert had a solid season as a bottom-six forward with 12 goals and 25 points in 50 games, though he elevates his game in the playoffs; Johnson’s veteran presence will be important on a very young blue line.

MacKinnon started the season with points in 13 straight games, and he also had point streaks of eight games, seven games and six games throughout the year. He had multi-point performances in 29 out of 69 games, and the Avalanche went 7-8-1 in games in which he did not find the scoresheet.

But Rantanen is a crucial cog in Colorado’s offense. Despite dealing with multiple injuries, he still finished the season with 41 points in 42 games, and he had 14 points in 12 playoff games last year. He has 250 points in 281 career regular-season games and is a point-per-game player in the postseason; this will be just the third playoff appearance of his career.

Makar emerged as a rookie sensation on the blue line, finishing second on the team in points with 50. He scored 12 goals and 38 assists and collected 19 power-play points in the first 57 regular-season games of his NHL career (he made his NHL debut in last year’s playoffs, recording six points in 10 games).

Kadri had a respectable-albeit-underwhelming season with 19 goals and 36 points in 51 games, good for a points-per-game pace of 0.71. He’s never been on a successful postseason team but should give MacKinnon and the Avs’ top line much better matchups.

One player who has been on a successful postseason team is Burakovsky, who won the Cup with Washington in 2018. Burakovsky set career highs across the board this year (20-25—45) and was much more consistent and reliable in a top-six role in Colorado. He got red-hot at the end of this season, finishing the year with 17 points in the final 15 games. Nichushkin, who entered 2019-20 as a question mark, returned to form later in the season, and Donskoi scored two more goals in 15 fewer games compared to his 2018-19 output in San Jose.

Though it was only a brief stint, Namestnikov played quite well in Colorado after the trade deadline. He recorded six points in nine games and was used on several lines, including the top line, due to injuries. He’s a versatile forward, as are some of the other middle-six wingers the Avs picked up last summer, which should give head coach Jared Bednar a lot of flexibility with which to work.

2019-20 matchups: Colorado vs. Vegas

The Colorado Avalanche had absolutely no trouble against the Golden Knights this season. In fact, they outscored Vegas 13-4 in two games, winning both by at least four goals.

Oct. 25, 2019: Vegas vs. Colorado (6-1 COL)

Bellemare wasted no time in his return to T-Mobile Arena, scoring against his former club just 28 seconds into the opening frame. Bellemare intercepted a centering feed from Stone, deked around Deryk Engelland and beat Marc-Andre Fleury glove-side.

William Karlsson tied it up at 1-1 late in the first, but the Avs responded just 43 seconds later as Kadri made it a 2-1 game with less than a minute left in the frame.

Colorado went on to score four more goals, getting another one from Kadri, one from Makar and two from Calvert. In fact, it was the first regular-season goal for Makar, as he gave Colorado a two-goal lead in the second period. The Avalanche ultimately scored five unanswered goals in one of Vegas’ worst performances of the season.

Recap
Highlights

Dec. 23, 2019: Vegas vs. Colorado (7-3 COL)

Things didn’t go much better in the second meeting between these clubs.

Much like he did in the previous matchup, Bellemare put on a show. This time, he scored two goals for the first time in his career.

Once again, he opened the scoring, though this time he waited four minutes and 37 seconds to light the lamp, finding twine off a slick backhand shot.

He scored again late in the second period, giving him five points in two games at T-Mobile Arena this season.

The Knights gave up multiple goals in all three periods: three in the first and two each in the second and third. For the second time in two games against the Avs, the Knights also gave up a shorthanded goal.

It was another blowout loss for Vegas.

No recap (here’s why)
Highlights

Players to watch

Nathan MacKinnon

Everything with the Avalanche starts and ends with MacKinnon. There’s plenty of talent around him, and the top-line trio of Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen rivals almost any line in the NHL, but there’s a reason he’s a perennial Hart candidate, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. St. Louis may be known for its physicality, but MacKinnon is pure skill and speed.

He recorded 13 points in 12 playoff games last year before the Avs were eliminated by San Jose in seven games (they, too, experienced a controversial call that heavily influenced the outcome of their series against the Sharks). MacKinnon is easily one of the most dynamic players in the game, and he’s a threat every time he touches the puck.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Bellemare is coming off his best season after setting new career highs in goals (nine), assists (13) and points (22). He was particularly effective against Vegas, scoring three goals and five points in two games. He may not stand out on Colorado’s stacked roster, but he’s the kind of player who can make big plays, and he certainly seems comfortable doing so against his former club.

Cale Makar

Makar, the former first-round pick (No. 4 overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, was nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy and is the favorite to take home the rookie-of-the-year honors. Despite missing 13 games, Makar finished second in scoring among rookies and averaged .88 points per game. Though he has missed several practices in training camp, he’s expected to be good to go in Edmonton, and he’ll be an X-Factor for the Avs throughout the playoffs.

Projected lineup

Landeskog — MacKinnon — Rantanen
Burakovsky — Kadri — Nichushkin
Namestnikov — J.T. Compher — Donskoi
Calvert — Bellemare — Tyson Jost/Matt Nieto

Ryan Graves — Makar
Samuel Girard — Johnson
Ian ColeNikita Zadorov

Grubauer/Francouz

Upcoming schedule

Exhibition game: July 29 at 11:30 a.m. — Colorado @ Minnesota
Aug. 2 at 3:30 p.m. — Colorado vs. St. Louis
Aug. 5 at 3:30 p.m. — Colorado @ Dallas
Aug. 8 — Colorado vs. Vegas


Dallas Stars

Though the Stars did not have to deal with controversial comments from an unhappy CEO this season, the offensive results on the ice were often the subject of frustration in Dallas.

Despite having several elite players in the lineup, the Stars struggled to score all year. Though the team relies heavily on strong defense and strong goaltending to win tight games, only one other qualifying team in this year’s 24-team return-to-play format averaged a lower goals-per-game rate (Columbus, 2.57). Otherwise, the Stars’ average (2.58) put them in the company of teams like Ottawa (2.68), New Jersey (2.68), San Jose (2.57), Anaheim (2.56) and Los Angeles (2.53).

Fortunately for Dallas, the Stars are much more effective at keeping the puck out of their own net thanks to strong team defense, especially in the crease.

Unlike other teams Vegas will face in the tournament, there is no goalie controversy in Dallas. However, that doesn’t mean both goaltenders won’t be used. The Stars used both Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin throughout the regular season, and the duo finished second in the league in save percentage (.920) and goals-against average (2.5) for the second year in a row. Also, both had great goals saved above averages; in fact, Bishop and Khudobin finished fifth (13.56) and third (18.28), respectively.

That being said, Bishop is the one with the playoff experience. He started all 13 of Dallas’ postseason games last season, finishing with a 2.22 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. He made 52 saves in Game 7 against the Blues but ultimately lost 2-1 in double overtime before St. Louis went on to win the Cup.

Khudobin, on the other hand, has never started a playoff game. But he finished first in the league in save percentage (.930) and second in goals-against average (2.22), both among goalies with at least 30 games played; Bishop finished eighth overall in both categories.

Dallas should benefit from the four upcoming games prior to the playoffs as both goalies should have a chance to get their feet wet.

2019-20 Goalie Comparison: Dallas

Player GP Starts Wins Losses OT SO GAA SV% HDSV% (5v5) GSAA
Player GP Starts Wins Losses OT SO GAA SV% HDSV% (5v5) GSAA
Bishop 44 43 21 16 4 2 2.5 0.92 0.847 13.56
Khudobin 30 26 16 8 4 0 2.22 0.93 0.852 18.28

After last season’s crushing postseason exit, the Stars went out and signed a few veterans for added help in the playoffs. Dallas took a gamble by signing 36-year-old Joe Pavelski to a three-year, $21 million contract. A less risky move was the one-year, $1.5 million deal for Corey Perry. The expectation was that Perry would be motivated after getting unceremoniously bought out by the Ducks, but things didn’t quite go to plan. The same was true for Pavelski, who saw a drastic drop in production.

The Stars will be without the services of veteran defenseman Roman Polak, who was one of a handful of NHL players who opted out of the Return to Play. Polak played just 41 games this season as Dallas regularly rotated him in and out of the lineup. In his absence, Andrej Sekera, the team’s other main free-agency addition who often rotated with Polak, likely will remain a fixture on the third pairing, with Taylor Fedun serving as the seventh defensemen.

Several key players, including Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz and Radek Faksa, along with Khudobin and Mattias Janmark, will be free agents after this season. That means there could be tough decisions ahead for Dallas.

But for now, the only question facing the Stars is whether they can find a way to light the lamp more often.

By the numbers

Overall record: 37-24-8
Goals for per game (NHL rank): 2.58 (26)
Goals against per game (NHL rank): 2.52 (2)
Power play (NHL rank): 21.1 percent (13)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 79.7 (17)
2019-20 record against Vegas: 1-0-1
All-time record against Vegas: 2-5-1
2019-20 record against Colorado: 4-0-0
2019-29 record against St. Louis: 1-3-1
Leading scorers: Seguin (17-33—50), Benn (19-29—39), Heiskanen (8-27—35)
Top CF%*: Oleksiak (52.29), Pavelski/Radulov (51.53), Janmark (51.18), Benn (50.61)
*Minimum 30 games played

Season recap

The Dallas Stars finished third in the Central Division, fourth in the Western Conference and 10th in the overall NHL standings with 82 points and a points percentage of .594 in 69 games.

It was an interesting season for the Stars, who started out 1-7-1 before winning 14 of 16, which included an 11-0-1 stretch. The season was interrupted by an abrupt coaching change in early December when Jim Montgomery was dismissed for “unprofessional conduct.” It was later revealed that he entered rehab after battling alcoholism. Rick Browness remains interim head coach.

Despite the distraction, Dallas managed a six-game winning streak in late December and early January. However, unlike Vegas, St. Louis and Colorado, the tail end of the season did not go well for Dallas. In fact, the Stars lost six straight games, going 0-4-2 leading up to the pause.

Though the Stars were, at times, the hottest team in the league, the issue plaguing the team all year was offense. The Stars finished 26th in the league with an average of 2.58 goals per game. They were second in goals against per game (2.52), which is how they managed to find success, but the lack of scoring was and remains a concern.

Tyler Seguin led the team in scoring with 50 points, and he was the only member of the team to hit the 40-point mark. No other NHL team had less than two players with 40 or more points this season. Former Art Ross Trophy winner and captain Jamie Benn had just 39 points. The fact that a 6-foot-7 defenseman (Jamie Oleksiak) finished first on the team in Corsi For percentage (52.29) is indicative of some sort of disconnect.

Offseason acquisitions Pavelski and Perry had disappointing seasons, even if Pavelski eventually turned things around. He finished the year with 14 goals and 31 points in 67 games after recording at least 64 points in six straight seasons. Perry, who had already seen a steady decline in production, scored just five goals and 21 points in 57 games. He scored three goals in his first 15 games but managed just two for the rest of the season.

Gurianov, 23, led the team in goals with 20 on the season. Hintz, another young talent in the organization, was the surprise of the season. He started the year as the hottest player on the team, contributed no matter where he played in the lineup and came away with 19 goals and 33 points in 60 games.

Bishop and Khudobin shared the workload in the crease, though Bishop got the majority of the starts (43 compared to Khudobin’s 26). Without their strong play, Dallas arguably would have missed the playoffs, or at least would have been a bubble team preparing for a five-game qualifying series.

2019-20 matchups: Dallas vs. Vegas

The Knights’ regular-season contests against Dallas were much more tame than those against St. Louis and Colorado, though that’s largely because of Dallas’ defensive efforts. Interestingly, Fleury is 4-0-0 against Dallas as a member of the Golden Knights (he did not play in either game this season. Robin Lehner stopped 40 of 41 shots in Chicago’s game against the Stars in November).

Nov. 25, 2019: Vegas @ Dallas (4-2 DAL)

Dallas entered the game in the midst of a 10-0-1 stretch, but Vegas didn’t come to play. It was a particularly rough night for the special teams as the Knights went 0-for-4 on the power play and 1-for-3 on the penalty kill.

Alexander Radulov scored his first of two power-play goals at 11:42 of the first. He got behind the defense and deflected a shot past Malcolm Subban to make it 1-0. Dallas doubled its lead just 103 seconds later. Seguin drew Schmidt well out of position, leaving the left side open for Esa Lindell, who beat Subban five-hole on a very soft goal.

Shea Theodore scored an even softer goal to cut the deficit in the middle frame, but the Stars restored their two-goal lead before the end of the period in another rough defensive sequence for Vegas. Nick Holden and Reaves got caught scrambling on a Dallas 3-on-2, and Subban got only a piece of the resulting shot, making it a 3-1 game.

Stastny recorded a season-high six shots and scored the next goal early in the third period, finishing a sleek play with a backhand one-timer to grab a point in the 900th game of his career. This made it a one-goal game with plenty of time remaining.

But once again, Radulov was able to get behind Vegas’ defense while on the power play. He had plenty of time and space to clean up a rebound and beat Subban. Radulov’s second power-play goal of the night reestablished Dallas’ two-goal lead and helped the Stars extend their streak to 11-0-1.

Recap
Highlights

Dec. 13, 2019: Vegas @ Dallas (3-2 VGK, OT)

It was all Dallas early on in this one, but the Knights managed to keep it scoreless through most of the first period until Fedun scored on a long wrist shot. However, the Knights responded with two goals in the second period. First, Karlsson beat Bishop to the post after Marchessault’s backhand pass sent Bishop spinning.

Then, Stephenson made good use of his speed after collecting the puck from Pacioretty’s skate pass; Stephenson sent an innocent-looking wrist shot but got it past Bishop to give Vegas its first lead of the game.

Benn managed to tie it at 2-2 with just over five minutes left in regulation after deflecting a shot/pass from Seguin on a give-and-go.

But Theodore’s gorgeous stretch pass in overtime gave Pacioretty a step on the defender. Pacioretty scored one of the most memorable goals of the season as he did the old shake-and-bake on Bishop, lifting Vegas to the 3-2 victory.

Recap
Highlights

Players to watch

Joe Pavelski

Obviously, Seguin and Benn are the big names in Dallas, but Pavelski is no stranger to the Knights, and he’s no stranger to the playoffs. The Stars brought him in on a questionable contract for his playoff experience, and he brings a lot of it. The American center/winger has 100 points in 134 career postseason contests, and while the round-robin tournament is not quite playoff hockey, he’ll be eager to get off to a better start heading into the actual postseason. Pavelski isn’t a proven playoff winner when push comes to shove, but he’s not far removed from being a perennial 30-goal scorer and one of the top go-to guys on his team.

Alexander Radulov

Skating with Pavelski at even strength and on the top power-play unit, Radulov has been Dallas’ most consistent forward at times over the last few years. He recorded four points in two games against Vegas this season and notched 10 points in 13 playoff games last year. Though he wasn’t able to replicate his 72-point production from his first two years in Dallas this past season, he remains a threat regardless of where he is in the lineup; however, he’s particularly potent when skating with Seguin and with Benn, who has 30 points in 32 career playoff games.

Miro Heiskanen

Miro Heiskanen is one of the best young defensemen in the league, and he could have an increased role this postseason. The Stars are eager to have the defensemen join the rush, especially since Dallas had a lot of success with transition offense in the regular season. Though John Klingberg is a very capable offensive defenseman, you could make the argument that no one is more equipped to handle that task than Heiskanen, who finished third on the team in scoring and managed 28 even-strength points.

Honorable mention: The FCC Line

The Stars’ shutdown line of Faksa, Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau was one of the better checking lines in the league this season and often generates a strong cycle, even against other teams’ top players. The unit has been focused more on driving play and creating offense from defense throughout training camp. Though the line embodies Dallas’ defense-first mentality, there’s enough offensive talent among the three forwards for this line to take some teams by surprise.

Projected lineup

Gurianov — Hintz — Seguin
Benn — Jason Dickinson — Perry
Cogliano — Faksa — Comeau
Janmark — Pavelski — Radulov

Lindell — Klingberg
Oleksiak — Heiskanen
Stephen Johns — Sekera

Bishop
Khudobin

Upcoming schedule

Exhibition game: July 30 at 1:00 p.m. — Dallas vs. Nashville
Aug. 3 at 3:30 p.m. — Dallas @ Vegas
Aug. 5 at 3:30 p.m. — Dallas vs. Colorado
Aug. 9 — Dallas @ St. Louis