Tonight at the American Airlines Center: a battle of mirror images. The Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars are following similar trajectories this season. Both teams are remaking themselves, forsaking their traditional defensive roots in favor a more offensive approach to the game with new coaches and general managers. Both teams are 4-6 in their last 10. Both have 51 points in the Western Conference. Both teams struggle on the road, and both have lost embarrassing contests recently: Minnesota, a 6-4 loss in Phoenix and the Stars, a 6-3 defeat in Philadelphia.
Something will have to give tonight as these teams each claw and grasp to stay within at least a hopeful distance of 8th place in the West.
Front and center in the minds of Stars fans tonight will be the goaltender position. Much has been speculated in the last two days about the future of Marty Turco with the Dallas Stars. Joe Nieuwendyk's comments during an intermission interview on Saturday, coupled with the evils (virtues?) of Twitter has created a buzz in the community, but nothing credible can be reported and the options are as limited as they are unlikely.
For now the only thing that is certain is that Alex Auld is being given a chance to get on a roll as he gets his 2nd consecutive start following a very solid outing against the Red Wings on Saturday. He will have to be just as good or better tonight as the Stars are very likely to be without Brenden Morrow and Jere Lehtinen, as well as Mike Ribeiro and Nicklas Grossman.
Follow the jump for an update from both teams and an attempt to sort out the injury situation:
The Wild took the first meeting between these teams in November, winning 3-2. You might remember the frustration of that game as the Stars deflected a couple of pucks into their own net, falling behind 2-0 early, and penalty trouble made it hard to catch up.
It was an optional, but both goalies were out there, as well as James Neal, Mark Fistric, Jeff Woywitka, Brian Sutherby, Krys Barch, Fabian Brunnstrom and Nicklas Grossman. Grossman (lower body) looked good, but still is questionable for Monday's game against Minnesota.
Brenden Morrow (upper body) will not play Monday. Jere Lehtinen (upper body) is questionable.
Alex Auld will be in goal.
Marc Crawford said they asked the goalies and the power play players to assess the Stars penalty kill in a meeting today, and said that was very beneficial. The Stars' penalty kill has allowed five goals in the last three games, while killing just two penalties. Crawford said Brad Richards has been very helpful.
I wonder if the overlap in that group had anything nice to say about the penalty kill.
It looks like the injuries will finally afford Brian Sutherby a chance to get into the game for once and show his coach why he deserves to stay there.
The lines are a bit of a mystery this morning, we'll update this space if an update from the morning skate reveals tonight's combinations.
We invite you to check out Hockey Wilderness, SB Nation partner for their entertaining take on the Wild. Here's a snippet of what they had to say following their most recent loss in Phoenix:
Fresh off an anemic performance in St. Louis where the Wild were shutout by the Blues 1-0, Minnesota fans were hoping to see the same Wild team from the four game homestand. Sure, they ended up with four goals, and Guillaume Latendresse's first career hat trick, but it took a surge in the third period to make it a game thanks to some horrible play in the first two periods.
Tonight the Wild came out ridiculously slow, falling behind 2-0 halfway through the first period. The Wild looked less than anemic, if that's even possible. They were slow with the puck, beaten to every loose puck, took bad line changes, didn't cover defensively, wouldn't take the body, took lazy penalties and had little transition success.
Things didn't look much better in the second period either. Sure, Guillaume Latendresse popped in a nice goal to make it 2-1, but they couldn't capitalize on the brief change in momentum. After two periods, Phoenix was outshooting the Wild 21-12.
Then the Wild made a tough game even harder. Greg Zanon took a bad hooking minor and Adrian Aucoin rocketed one past a screened Niklas Backstrom, then Petr Prucha scored to make it 4-1. Finally the Wild had their first full power play and somehow messed things up so badly that they gave up a shorthanded three-on-one and Vernon Fiddler scored to put the Yotes up 5-1. Sure, the WIld were down 5-1 to Chicago in the third period and came back last week, so why not try again huh?
The Wild must be as frustrating as the Stars are. I watched them play Pittsburgh at home last week, knowing that we'd be seeing them soon, and I was impressed with what I saw. Then I watched them play Vancouver and got even more concerned. They followed that up with two dreadful road performances and Wild fans don't know what to expect tonight. Just like us, they've seen their guys beat really good teams, but they struggle with consistency.
Dallas: Brenden Morrow (upper-body) is out. Jere Lehtinen (upper-body) is questionable, as is Nick Grossman (knee). Mike Ribeiro is out with his throat contusion.
Highlights from their last meeting: (Where two goals from Loui Eriksson couldn't get him a star of the game?)