The New York Islanders and Dallas Stars rarely meet, but when they do it's often good theater. Nino Niederreiter's first concussion (after 11 seconds TOI), while Matt Moulson scores four goals and Rick DiPietro leaves injured but with a "win" despite four goals on 21 shots in 40 minutes. Last season saw Ryan Strome's first NHL goal and a John Tavares hat trick at home, followed by a late comeback win on the road.
Ahead of tonight's meeting at Nassau Coliseum, we exchanged Q&A's with David Wilson of Defending Big D to find out what's happening with the finest green in the league (mercifully correcting the awful high school football era).
You can find my answers to his questions over there. His answers to my questions follow below:
1. The already ridiculously loaded Central Division went through what you called an "arms race" over the summer. In this scenario, who is the USSR, destined to collapse under unsustainable spending?
DBD: Ooh. Fun question. Let's try and narrow this down. Winnipeg are eliminated from the get-go, on account of refusing to participate in the arms race and doing bugger all this offseason. Nobody loves you for your neutrality, Switzerland. The Colorado Avalanche meanwhile, paper tigers that they were, have seemingly collapsed, like a flan in a cupboard. Now, obviously, the Dallas Stars represent the good ol' US of A in this scenario, nobody could ever accuse the Nashville Predators of seeking global hegemony, and the Minnesota Wild are basically in Canada, which makes them the good guys. And Chicago? Don't get me started on playing in a division with perennial powerhouses Chicago. I'll leave you and the process of elimination to figure the rest out.
No, wait. I've changed my mind. I want to rant on this for a moment, if for no other reason than I hate the St. Louis Blues.
Having sold the farm to lease Ryan Miller at the end of last season (trading one perfectly serviceable Jaroslav Halak in the process) and seeing their season go up in flames following that, they then banked pretty much their whole offseason on the acquisition of Paul Stastny. Whilst being content to rely on middling goaltending and a bunch of players who were supposed to get it done last season and didn't. Stastny? Oh yeah, he's out for a few weeks early in the season. Woops. If anybody's going to play the role of the USSR in the Central Division, it's the Blues. I mean, they already played it last spring, going from looking solid, to crumbling, to outright falling apart. I'd be fine with them reprising that role.
[Ed. note: Purely based on financial resources, "Blues" is the correct answer.]
2. Last season the Islanders briefly had a mega line with Thomas Vanek on the left of John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. They scored gobs of goals. Their defense...well, they scored gobs of goals.
Does Lindy Ruff's sporadic use of Benn-Spezza-Seguin mean it's more a "break glass in case of emergency" occasion? And do they have similar D concerns? (And let's be honest, isn't it unfair to put that trio together?)
DBD: You know, it's funny that nobody really bothered to fantasize about this line over the summer. Instead we were all "Look at our top two duos and how dangerous they are (and never mind who plays on a line with them)." And then the officials stupidly wave off a goal in Pittsburgh, the Stars get mad, and suddenly Cerberus rears his head.
Talk to the Penguins about how unfair it is to have those three playing together.
As for you other question, I don't see any defensive liability on that line. Spezza has already had numerous examples of him tracking back to break up a scoring chance at the other end, as have Seguin and Benn. Come to think of it, that's part of the system implemented by Ruff. Huh. Really, the Stars struggle the most defensively when they get hemmed in their own end and coverage breaks down. Benn, Spezza, and Seguin don't get hemmed in their own end. Just saying.
3. Speaking of which, what's your read on Lindy Ruff so far? He went from revered to "yeah but never won it all" in Buffalo, but then coaches can only go where their roster allows, no?
DBD: I was a doubter. I'd heard all the aspersions cast in Buffalo and didn't really know what such an old-timer would bring to a young Stars team. Happily, I have been proven wrong many times over by Ruff and his staff. Turns out he's not old-school at all, with him and Jim Nill being some of the most devoted fancy stats users in the league, and he's managed to implement systems that play to the Stars strength of speed, whilst not exposing the defense too much. No wait, before you laugh at that, our defense on paper has the potential to be really bad. I give Ruff full credit for maintaining them at simply bad levels.
Funny, the summer that Ruff came to Dallas was the one where everybody was watching John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault to see where they would go. I'm happy with how all that turned out for us.
4. As Islanders fans of the past 35 years should know all too well, fans are at the mercy of their teams' owners. Is Tom Gaglardi still as awesome as he sounded when he bought the Stars?
DBD: Yes. And maybe part of it is how good he looks when compared to the former owners, but Gaglardi is a big part of the reason for the team's success. He's a presence when he needs to be, stays out of the way when he should, and opens his pockets whenever Jim Nill asks him to. What more could you want from an owner?
5. How fun is "Jyrki Jokipakka" to say? And who is he?
Do you even know how to say it? I still don't. All I know is it's giving me fits in my article writing. As for who he is, Wikipedia will tell you he's "a Finnish professional ice hockey defenceman who is currently playing for the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League." If you want more than that, I'll say he's one of the brightest defensive Stars prospects in a pool of bright defensive Stars prospects. He was a late round draft pick in 2011, and only came over to North America last year, where he played the entire season with the Texas Stars.
Through training camp this year though he was the surprise, quite often looking like the strongest of the prospects, despite guys like Kevin Connauton, Patrik Nemeth, and Jamie Oleksiak being ahead of him on the experience curve. In fact, Brandon Worley of Defending Big D wrote a prescient article about Jokipakka, especially seeing how injuries have indeed forced the team's hand. One game in and he already looked far better than Oleksiak, who I'm hoping will be keeping everyone in the press box company at tonight's game.