Only the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers have collected fewer points at home than the Dallas Stars this season. (3-3-3 at the American Airlines Center). The Stars have scored 23 times in 9 home games (2.55 GFA). Eleven of those came in just two games. Meanwhile, they've collected points on the road at a .625 clip. Being a strong road team is often the hallmark of a good hockey team in this league. If the Stars could figure out how to score some goals in their own building, they might just have something special.
Unfortunately, their first opportunity to improve things on home ice comes tonight against the league's best road team: The New Jersey Devils, and it comes, as you probably know by now, without James Neal. Neal has been suspended 2 games for a rather unfortunate hit in Thursday night's game against Columbus. We've talked ad nauseam about that here, and here.
Last season the Stars and Devils split their season series with the home team earning each win. Dallas defeated the New Jersey on New Years Eve at the American Airlines Center 4-2. In that game, Landon Wilson and Mark Parrish scored for the Stars. With their leading scorer James Neal out tonight, the Stars could use some similar goal production from unlikely sources this go around as well.
After the jump, a look at the Devils and updates on injuries for both sides, as well as 5 Questions With John Fischer of In Lou We Trust... [UPDATE: Mike Heika reports a slight surprise in goal, as well as some ambiguity on the lines. More after the jump]
Because the Stars will be without James Neal tonight, the lines, which have already been jumbled recently, will be even more still. Mike Heika guesses that Brenden Morrow will move to Neal's place with Richards and Eriksson.
That would leave the lines, with Warren Peters in, looking something like this, at my best guess...
Or they could have Peters play on the Modano line and keep Toby with Wandell and Barch. It's anyone's guess right now. We'll update if a morning skate update becomes available.
[UPDATE] Mike Heika reports the following:
Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott and Jamie Benn are all candidates to play on the top line with Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson.
It appeared that Warren Peters was playing center this morning, which would mean that Mike Modano or Mike Ribeiro might be moving to a wing, but I might be reading too much into all of this.
Bottom line, we'll have to wait until tonight to see what Crawford has in mind, but he definitely has a lot of options to study in the two games that Neal will be out.
So, anyone's guess as to the lines tonight. [END UPDATE]
The special teams battle will be of the utmost importance again tonight, as the Devil boast a better power play percentage (20.2%) and penalty kill percentage (82.5%) than the Stars do. Dallas allowed Columbus four special teams goals on Thursday night. (3 PP, 1 SHG)
Dallas has a recent history of winning the games perceived to be against the "better" opponents, and they're on a six game win-one-lose-one-win-one-lose-one streak. Tonight fits both of those trends with the Devils, so we'll see if they can keep them both going with a big win at the AAC tonight.
The Stars have dropped games on three consecutive Saturday nights.
[UPDATE] Yann Danis is in net tonight for the Devils, and not Martin Brodeur. Danis has looked extremely sharp in his two starts so far this season. [END UPDATE]
The Devils come into the game tonight boasting the title of "best road team" while at the same time, having lost two straight in Philadelphia, and Nashville. Still, they're 9-1-1 on the road this year, and will likely be a determined bunch as they try to salvage the final game of their three game trip.
New Jersey allows a very stingy 2.10 goals per game, good for #1 overall in the NHL. They win when scoring first 80% of the time. This does not bode well for the Stars, who have struggled mightily to score goals at home this season.
Ask a Devils fan and they'll likely want to talk about injuries right now. This club is banged up, but still finding a way to win most nights. Says SB-Nation Partner In Lou We Trust:
New Jersey Devils Injuries
In other words, the Devils' top two defensemen; their best checking center; their best checking left winger; their #2 center; and a fourth line winger are all now on the injured list - and with no clear idea of when they'll return.
We know how that feels.Still, there's no reason to rest easy when facing Marty Brodeur and the Devils.
5 Questions With John Fischer of In Lou We Trust:
How have the Devils done such a good job with the injuries they've suffered this season?
It sounds cliche, but players have been stepping up. The most significant injuries have came on defense with the Devils' top pairing of Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya being hurt; but the rest of the four veteran defensemen on the roster have stepped up to take on the extra workload. While Colin White and Bryce Salvador have been OK, Mike Mottau and Andy Greene have both been playing out of their minds - sometimes for 26-27 minutes a night. That has really helped soften the impact of their losses. At forward, the replacements have came up to decently - Tim Sestito has been called up and has been earning the coaches' trust at the third line, and the signing of Dean McAmmond (first to an AHL deal, then a NHL deal) looks smart as the Devils need an extra center. Outside of that, the return of Patrik Elias and the fine starts from wingers like Jamie Langenbrunner, David Clarkson, and Niclas Bergfors has given Lemaire more leeway to move everyone around. Though I fear the loss of Dainius Zubrus will especially hurt unless someone not named Travis Zajac starts playing big at center.
The Devils are 5-4-0 at home yet are 9-1-1 on the road and are the NHL's best road team. They've just recently lost their first game on the road, but what's the secret to their success away from home?
Resiliency. The Devils can give up a goal - or even two goals, even on the first two shots allowed of the game - and it won't faze the team. They're particularly focused on working hard in response to the other team striking first and eventually they find some way to equalize. If not shortly afterwards (e.g. both goals against Nashville on Thursday), then by the end of the game (e.g. two third period goals against Washington in their own building back in October to equalize and force overtime).
The Devils are allowing a league low 2.10 goals per game. Is the defense that stiff, or is Brodeur still that good?
Well, the defense has been hit with injuries to their top defenders. While Greene and Mottau have stepped up and the Devils forwards still traditionally backcheck well, it's not like they are shutting down opposing offenses. Good, but not at all an ironclad blueline. Brodeur has had to make some huge saves to keep the Devils within many of the games they won. The difference is that the team isn't reliant solely on Brodeur to maintain a win for 60 wins. Brodeur does bail out the rest of the team, sometimes with alarming regularity, but he's still the same Brodeur we love and the haters don't want to accept.
Jamie Langenbrunner: We still miss him. How much do Devils fans love him?
The Captain is very appreciated in New Jersey. Many have asked to place his nameplate on the back of their personalized jerseys. Admittedly, when the Devils traded Jason Arnott to get him here in 2002, I was skeptical. But since then, I'm ever so glad Lou made that deal.
In case there's a chance, give us the blueprint for how the Stars can beat New Jersey.
Dominate the puck for all 60 minutes and/or get a 3 goal lead. The Devils have been beaten when they're clearly being bossed around the rink and a half-step behind the puck carriers. Though that's true for pretty much any team in the league; if you're not able to win the puck back over and over, then the likelihood of winning drops like a stone. If Dallas can't do that, then make sure every shot counts. The Devils have come back from 2 goals several times this season, but not from a 3 goal deficit.
New Jersey: Dainius Zubrus (leg), IIka Pikkarainen (illness), Rob Niedermayer (upper body), Paul Martin (arm fracture), Jay Pandalfo (shoulder), and Johnny Oduya (lower body) are all out.