The San Jose Sharks come to the American Airlines Center tonight to face the Dallas Stars in the division rivals first meeting of the year. Dallas took the season series last season four games to two, including a 2-1 mark at home. They outscored the Sharks 13-3 their final two games in Texas, including a 8-2 walloping on March 16th and a Steve Ott hat trick on March 31st.
The Stars snapped a three game losing streak on Tuesday, beating the red hot Ducks by a score of 2-1 on the strength of goals by Steve Ott and Brad Richards (the 200th of his career). Despite that, offense is still a concern for Dallas as they have managed a total of five goals in their last four outings. After the first month of the season the Stars led the league in scoring but production has fallen precipitously since beating the Coyotes 6-3 on November 5th. Scoring more than two goals for the first time two weeks would go a long way toward taking down the Sharks.
San Jose enters the game having blown a 3-1 third period lead last night in Denver, eventually losing 4-3 in overtime despite out-shooting the Avs 43-22. The loss stopped their win streak at four games but extended they've earned points in six straight. San Jose, in direct contrast to the special teams fests the Stars have been playing as of late, took only two minor penalties last night.
This is a tough test for the Stars and it gets started Thursday at 7:30pm CST on Fox Sports Southwest(HD).
A Nabokov-less Sharks... Who will start in net for San Jose? Follow the jump...
The Dallas Stars, knock on wood, are experiencing amazingly good health. Jamie Benn's three game absence at the beginning of the year are the teams only three games lost to injury so far this season. Again, knock on wood.
As such, there is a rotating spot at the end of the bench for healthy scratches to play their way into the lineup. Brian Sutherby and Krys Barch have traded places back and forth and one would think that Sutherby will be in and Krys Barch will not. Unknown at this point is when defenseman Jeff Woywitka will, as Crawford says, "draw in" next.
Lines have been juggled slightly in attempt to generate offense. Jamie Benn has moved to the Ribeiro line and back down with Ott and Wandell, or Segal, or Burish depending on the night. Wherever he is he remains one of the only Stars generating consistent five on five opportunities.
In their very limited even strength scoring lately, Jamie Benn has tallied one (in Los Angeles), drew a penalty shot (and missed it in Anaheim), and assisted on a Brandon Segal goal (in Anaheim). The only other even strength production has come from the Richards line. This means, of course, that Ribeiro and Morrow are looking to get healthy tonight after several near goals on Tuesday.
Kari Lehtonen will start in net tonight for Dallas. It's his 15th start in 17 games this season.
Last season we would have been extolling the virtues of Evgeni Nabokov and his stellar numbers in Dallas here in this space. We were telling you "the Sharks have won seven of their last eight games in Dallas." We were examining the Sharks statistical dominance and bemoaning our bad luck that this game should fall in this awkward stretch of the schedule, etc, etc... Not this year. The Sharks are a good team. A really good team, but they've shown weakness here and there. Perhaps the back to back will get to them tonight in Dallas.
Antero Niittymaki made the start in goal last night in Denver so Antti Niemi is expected to start against the Stars tonight [So Fear the Fin tells us]. Niemi, following his Stanley Cup run, is 2-4-0 on the season with a 3.73 GAA and a .878 save percentage, so there is some hope there that the Stars can help him further puncture that armor.
Niemi came from Chicago, where Marty Turco ended up. The ex-Star was thought to be going to San Jose by many for a long time. That odd soap-opera comes full circle tonight with Niemi in a Sharks uniform and Nabokov and Turco nowhere to be found.
Niemi's poor numbers stem from a rough October. In two November games his save percentage is .917 and he won his last start at home against the Flames.
Please visit Fear The Fin for your opposing viewpoint.