Gameday preview: Dallas Stars @ St. Louis Blues (7:30p CST)

The Dallas Stars' season is now at critical mass. The Stars sit in ninth place in the West, yet are 11th based on points percentage. With just 16 games remaining the Stars have precious time to get things turned back around or risk falling so far behind in the playoff race that it's near impossible to catch back up. In their last nine games the Stars are 2-6-1, gaining just five points of a possible 18. That has allowed those around them to surpass the Stars in the standings and negate the games-in-hand buffer the Stars had enjoyed the past two months.

Now the Stars must find a way to beat a team that has outscored them 9-2 in two games so far this season.

 

The biggest challenge for the Stars at the moment is to find more than one way to score. The Stars have scored just one goal or fewer in the past nine games (hence the 2-6-1 record) and have been unable to generate scoring from more than one line a night. The challenge for Dave Tippett moving forward is to find line combinations that maximizes the scoring ability of the Stars without sacrificing defensive liability. Should he keep Loui Eriksson on the top line with Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro or should the Stars spread the scoring ability around more? Should Brendan Morrison stay the third line center or perhaps you put him on Mike Modano's line? Perhaps the Stars should re-team James Neal and Brian Sutherby, a combination that dominated against San Jose.

One thing the Dallas Stars desperately need is for the veterans to start producing. Mike Modano and Brendan Morrison were both called out by coach Dave Tippett following Sunday's loss to Montreal. Mike Modano, the face of the franchise the team's most tenured player is used to such criticism and understands that he is held to a higher level than others. Morrison has played just three games with the Stars, yet he knows what is expected of him and accepts the challenge from the coach.

I'm fine with it. I've been called worse in the paper before. We had a game where we had situations where we could have put them away we didn't. I think Mo and I were big parts of the power play that didn't get the job done last night. Sometimes you have to call it the way it is. I think the message is any great team in this league needs second and third line scoring. We're getting it from the first line right now, so the more scoring depth you can, the better your chances are.

The Stars will have to deal with more injuries however, as Jere Lehtinen and Fabian Brunnstrom are both out tonight with upper-body injuries. Both are listed as day-to-day.

The St. Louis Blues are coming off a loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday yet are just four points behind the Stars and eighth place in the West. A win tonight would be a four point swing between the Stars and Blues and would continue their late season climb up the standings. One thing the team is looking to do more of is more scoring in the first period, something that they haven't done much of lately. In fact, the Blues have scored just one first period goal in their last 11 games.

"The effort is there," Blues center Andy McDonald said. "Guys want to do the right thing, but sometimes maybe when you try too hard, you end up doing too much and end up causing mistakes. But everyone has their heart in the right place. For us, when we're successful, we're playing a simple style of game, especially early in the game. We want to play simple ... that's when we have success, so that's the way we want to play."

Chris Mason is expected to make his 17th consecutive start for the Blues, yet the standout goaltender has not played well the past few games. In his last three starts, Mason has a 4.41 goals-against average and a .861 save percentage.

Key Injuries:

Dallas: RW Jere Lehtinen (upper body); LW Fabian Brunnstrom (upper body), C Toby Petersen (foot), C Brad Richards (wrist), LW Brenden Morrow (knee) and D Sergei Zubov (hip) are out.

St. Louis: D Erik Johnson (knee), D Eric Brewer (back) and LW Paul Kariya (hip) are out.

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