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Behind Enemy Lines: 5 Dallas Stars questions with Defending Big D

Marcus Dingler of our fellow SBNation site Defending Big D sheds some light on Minnesota's Round 1 opponent.

Is Tyler Seguin's return the key to a Stars victory, or is Dallas just fine without him?
Is Tyler Seguin's return the key to a Stars victory, or is Dallas just fine without him?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In order to bring you some Dallas Stars perspective, we reached out to our sister site Defending Big D to answer some in-depth questions we had about the Minnesota Wild's first-round opponent. Our guest to answer those questions? Marcus Dingler, whose work you can follow on Twitter and at DBD. They're doing a lot of great work previewing the Stars-Wild series, so make sure to check them out!

As for those questions? Here we go!

1: What can the Stars do this year that the Avalanche and Blues couldn’t do these last two seasons: Knock Minnesota out in Round 1?

First, they will have to win on the road. If I recall correctly, the Avalanche were unable to beat the Wild at Xcel and the Blues were only able to do it one time in a six game series. Dallas is 22-12-7 on the road this year. The team will likely have to steal at least one game on foreign soil. Credit to Minnesota for holding serve the last two years, but the Stars will have to buck that trend.

Second, Dallas will have to jump on the Wild early in every game. Except for the ridiculous 3-goal comeback earlier in the season, when Minnesota gets to play their style of game and score first, they become a team that is really tough to deal with. I would expect the first goal of each game to have a direct tie to who wins (even more so than it normally does).

Minnesota inflicted their style on the Avalanche and got to dictate the terms of engagement. Last year, the Wild just looked like a better team than St. Louis. Dallas is in good form right now, but they want to play Stars’ hockey. A seven-game dogfight of 2-1 games probably does not bode well for the team in Victory Green .

Risking stating the obvious, this is a style clash. Minnesota wants to grind, and Dallas wants to fly. Whoever can dictate their style on the opponent four times probably gets to the next round.

2: Dallas gave up 230 goals this season- the worst mark of any playoff team. Is that just because of goaltending, or is the defense a factor in that?

As you know, the answer is always a little bit of both. The Stars’ goalies faced a lot of high danger scoring chances this year. The blame could be placed on the defense (including forwards), but the goalies have let in their fair share of softies.

I will say that the defense has improved mightily over the last 2 months. Part of that began with the combination of Ales Hemsky, Antoine Roussel, and rookie Radek Faksa (you will see a lot of #12). That line has become the shut down forward group. I bet no one ever thought they would use the words "Ales Hemsky" and "Shut Down Line" in the same sentence; but alas. The trio has been fantastic and that has contributed to a falling GAA.

Dallas is still 20th in goals against, but that has been a strong improvement from where this team was 8 weeks ago. The Stars aren’t the Wild defensively, but I think you will be surprised at their improvement since the last time the teams met.

3: Dallas’ big move at the trade deadline was to acquire Kris Russell at the deadline, a move that perplexed some at the time. What has Russell brought to the Stars, if anything?

I was very perplexed, along with most of our readers. Jim Nill has earned some trade equity with the fans over the past few years, but no one really understood this one. A shot blocker that is a Corsi vortex was difficult to understand.

But the more you watch Russell play, the more you start to understand the addition. The Stars’ third pair pre-Russell (Jyrki Jokipakka and Jordie Benn for the most part) was okay, but they really struggled to exit the zone when they did gain possession. Russell’s advanced metrics indicated that flawed as he might be, his ability to exit the zone after taking possession in the defensive zone was something the team desperately needed. The exits have been cleaner, and Russell is very composed on the puck.

For what it’s worth, the rest of the Stars’ lineup has seen an uptick in their shot blocking since Russell got to town. Maybe he inspired some folks? Then again, he has missed a significant amount of time since being acquired with a foot injury (from a shot block, obviously). On a scale of 1 to Alex Ovechkin, what has Russell’s impact been on the team? It is really difficult to say, but the third pairing is better now than it was before he joined the team.

4: If Tyler Seguin is out or hampered because of his Achilles injury, how does Dallas make up for that?

The Stars have built an extremely deep forward crew. A lot of teams would have staggered with a player like Seguin out for a month, but Dallas has been fine. The power play looks a little bit different. But the straw that stirs the power play drink was Jason Spezza before and after Seguin’s injury.

There is no easy way to make up for Seguin’s absence, but the Stars are so deep that it hasn’t affected them too much yet. He missed a brutal stretch of the schedule in late March that saw Spezza and Jamie Benn carry the team. Patrick Sharp has been good. Mattias Janmark (another rookie) has been a possession horse. The lines almost seemed to fall into place when Seguin went down and the synergy between some combinations has been palpable.

Obviously, the Stars will need him back if they hope to make a deep run. But Jamie Benn, in my opinion, is the best all-around player in the world. Watching him take over games has been special. Seguin is flashy, but Benn can bake his own cookie. Seguin’s absence isn’t as critical to this team as some might think.

5: In the playoffs, teams generally play more defensive, there are fewer penalties called, and overtime is 5-on-5 instead of 3-on-3. That means there’s a lot less space for a skilled team like the Stars to operate. Can the Stars cope with less room than ever?

The question of the hour. It’s the question Stars’ fans have been asking themselves since November. "Okay, awesome, but will this hold up in April?"

There is no way to say for sure. The Stars and Kings played a game on a Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago at Staples Center. It was a heavy and ruthless game, that felt like half of a street fight and half of a playoff game. The Kings, as you know, are such a heavy and north-south team. The Stars went into their building and won the game 3-2. I know it wasn’t a playoff game, but it did show me that this isn’t your mother’s Stars’ team.

For all of the accolades the team is getting for their power play, I have kept a close eye on two other statistics: penalty killing and Corsi at even-strength. The Stars’ penalty killing has vaulted to 10th in the league, and their Corsi at even-strength is 52.6 percent. That isn’t an eye-popping number, but it isn’t like the team is just waiting for their next opportunity to go on the power play.

Corsi never tells the whole story, but over an 82 game sample size there are certain trends that develop. This is not the Capitals’ teams of years’ past that used the power play to beat teams. This is not the Colorado Avalanche of two years ago that rely on 85% luck and 15% Patrick Roy voodoo. The numbers support the fact that Dallas is more than capable of handling itself at even-strength, but now they have to do it a seven-game series with the weight of expectations.

One thing is for sure, the Stars don’t play many boring games. The season series between the two teams has been no different. It should be a fun series. Styles make fights.