The Stars play game 11 of a relentless 16 game December schedule tonight when the Montreal Canadiens make their first visit to the American Airlines Center since March 8th, 2009, a 3-1 Habs win. Dallas has weathered the storm well in December going 6-2-2 so far including three wins in a row on the road in the Western Conference. That heavy lifting having been done, they have a chance to close out the month strong with five of their final six on home ice.
With a win tonight, the Dallas Stars could lead the Western Conference with 45 points, though technically the Canucks and Red Wings would maintain better point percentages with games in hand. Still, it would make a shiny trinket to carry into Christmas if they're able to beat the Flames on Thursday as well, but let us not get too far ahead of ourselves.
The Stars are 9-2-0 against the East this year and a perfect 4-0 against them at home. The Canadiens are a rare Eastern team that holds their own against the West (4-4-1) but have not won a game on the road against Western Conference teams in three tries, the latest loss coming on Sunday in Denver.
Montreal has done the Stars "a solid" in going 3-0 against the Pacific Division this year. It's up to Dallas to make it really count and beat a team the Coyotes, Sharks and Kings could not.
Remember it's a late start, 8:00pm CST, tonight on FS SW. (The Canadian National Anthem takes an extra 30 minutes. Or it could be a Versus thing.)
More after the jump...
The Stars enter tonight's contest relatively healthy, pending news at morning skate. Healthy scratches are now rotating between Barch, Segal and Sutherby seemingly in the forward group. Matt Niskanen has traded healthy scratches with Mark Fistric on defense as Jeff Woywitka has proved to valuable to remove from the lineup.
Marc Crawford insists that everyone is playing well right now and these are just an attempt to get everyone into the games, or fresh legs where appropriate.
Kari Lehtonen will be back in net for his second start since returning from back soreness that saw him miss a week of action. He won his start in Columbus on Saturday, allowing only one goal on 36 shots. Raycroft beat the Wings on Sunday and the rest should allow Lehtonen to play both tonight and Thursday against the Flames.
They'll put their obnoxious 9-0-2 streak at home on the line tonight. They've not lost (in regulation) at the AAC since the Texas Rangers were still playing in the World Series, October 28th against the Kings.
According to Stars PR, "they are tied for the second most home points in the Western Conference (24)… The last time Dallas recorded a point in 12-straight home games was during the 2003-04 season, when the team collected points in 17-straight home games."
A usually stingy Montreal team (2.18 GA/G is 2nd in the league) has allowed 19 goals against in their last five games, nearly 4 goals a night. It's a sure bet they'll be putting their best defensive foot forward tonight in an effort to get back to that. It starts with their PK which is second best in the NHL at 87.8%.
We could have a low scoring affair on our hands here as the Stars have not been scoring many even strength goals in the month of December (16 in 10 games).
Returning to the AAC tonight is former Dallas Star Jeff Halpern, who was traded to Tampa along with Jussi Jokinen and Mike Smith in the Brad Richards trade. Halpern suffered a knee injury in Tampa, returned, signed with the Kings (played only 16 games) and then landed with the Canadiens this season. He's been a pleasant surprise for them there recording 16 points already and is a +9 on the season. You may remember him from "Halpern-Barnes-Lundqvist" fame.
Carey Price is only 6-5 on the road this year but his numbers are a glowing 2.01 GAA and a .933 save percentage.
Habs Eyes On The Prize for your Canadiens needs.