The Dallas Stars had a talent last year for taking points from the conference leaders (Chicago, San Jose, Detroit) and losing them to the teams with whom they were most directly fighting for playoff positioning. It's not only how many points you collect in this ridiculous Conference, it's who you take them from.
Dallas is 3-4-0 in the Pacific Division this year, but has beaten the East with ease and regularity. If they had two more wins against the Ducks or Kings, and two fewer against the East, how much better would the standings look right now with the exact same 36 points?
This is the conundrum facing us tonight as the team heads to Phoenix. Beating Carolina is nice, but beating the Coyotes is ultimately more useful and indeed we'd trade one for the other. It is after all a "4 point game." The Hurricanes were the appetizer. Tonight tells us a great deal more about this team.
The Stars have struggled in the Valley of the Sun since Phoenix acquired Ilya Bryzgalov, losing four of six games there in the last two seasons (2-2-2). Dallas has feasted upon those playing the second half of a back to back this season but tonight the tables are turned and it's the Stars turn to be a tired road team.
More after the jump...
Kari Lehtonen remains out and is not yet skating because of lower back stiffness that has been bothering him all week. He remains in Frisco getting treatment and could be available for Monday in San Jose, though the longer he goes without skating the less likely this appears.
In the mean time it falls to Andrew Raycroft to hold down the fort and for him it's been a tale of two venues. At home he's a spectacular 3-0-0 with a .067 GAA and a sparkling .979 save percentage.
On the road, however, he is 1-2-0, stopping 78 of 88 shots (.886). He'll need to overcome inconsistent effort from the Stars on the road and weather the early storm tonight. Dallas is 2-2 on the second night of back to backs, all of which have been on the road.
Toby Petersen, Mark Fistric, and Krys Barch remain out for Dallas. Expect to see Gagnon back tonight (he has two assists since being recalled from the Texas Stars) and the same defensive grouping including Jeff Woywitka. They could substitute Maxime Fortunus for some fresh legs, but I wouldn't expect it in this spot.
With the Ducks idle tonight, the Stars can finish no worse than second in the conference but need these points to keep the tiniest distance from the rest of the division.
The good news here is that the Coyotes have dropped their last four at home (0-3-1) but they're still a very good team. Indeed they've won a very impressive six of their last seven games on the road in some very tough places.
Dave Tippett seemed to have this team readier than ever last season when facing division opponents, particularly the Stars. Dallas' fist two trips to Phoenix last season resulted in 3-2 and 5-2 losses.
Tippett was not happy with his teams loss to Minnesota the other night:
In a nutshell, Tippett told the players what he’d told the media immediately after Wednesday’s game - that the Wild beat the Coyotes at their own game by outworking them and controlling the neutral zone.
"We just didn’t have enough push," Tippett told the media on Friday. "And some of that, you really have to look at the game that Minnesota played last night. They played a very strong game. They were committed in all areas. It was a game very similar to what you usually see our team play. In that sense, the effort was challenged and we didn’t come up with the extra effort and they did."
The Coyotes host Dallas on Saturday at 6 p.m.The game will be the eighth between the clubs since Tippett, who used to coach the Stars, signed on to lead the Coyotes just before last season began. Tippett and the Coyotes have posted a 4-3-0 record against Dallas the past two seasons but have lost three of the past four showdowns.