Tuesday, October 18th, 2011, 6:00 PM CDT
Opponent Blog: The Cannon
The 4-1 Dallas Stars travel to Columbus tonight to take on the Blue Jackets for the second game in a row after Saturday's 4-2 victory at American Airlines Center. All four of Dallas' victories have come on home ice, and now it's time to prove that their game can be successful in a more hostile environment, without the benefit of last change and the beneficial match-ups it's allowed them.
The Stars took satisfaction from Saturday night's effort and saw it as an important step forward in a season filled with promise early on. The Blue Jackets (0-4-1), on the other hand, could not have been more disappointed. Coach Scott Arniel took the opportunity to work his team hard on what had been a scheduled off day with what has been described as a punishing bag skate. It's length was 60 minutes, representing the 60 minutes he felt they should have worked against the Stars Saturday night.
Already without James Wisniewski, Columbus will now be missing their number one center and prized off-season pickup Jeff Carter, who suffered a hairline fracture in the top of his foot against the Stars this last weekend. With two big offensive weapons missing to go along with being the only team in the NHL without a win (correction: besides the NY Rangers), the Blue Jackets will be a desperate, wounded animal of a hockey team tonight. It's a big test for Glen Gulutzan's Stars.
This is the second home and home series the Stars have played this young season, winning the first half of a similar set with Chicago, but dropping the second half in disastrous fashion at United Center.
Both teams will churn the bottom of their lineups for tonight's contest and Dallas will see the debut of their newest pickup...
Dallas has had their fair share of difficulties getting to a 4-1 record. They played a poor game against the Coyotes and won. They played a poor half game against the Blues and won. They won't be able to show those same weaknesses and periods of listless meandering and be as successful on the road as they were at home.
That's why this game is a big one to build confidence at the start of their first extended road trip. With the Ducks, Kings and Coyotes coming up (all of whom are playing well, the Ducks particularly so) this is one they likely must have to bring back a better than .500 points percentage on the trip.
Add to it a chance to put their throat on the Jackets a little bit. You can't make the playoffs in October but you can hurt your chances dearly, and that's what's at stake for Columbus here. If the Stars hand them two defeats and move on they'll have done a lot to ensure that the Blue Jackets stay in their rear view mirror for months to come. It's never too early for killer instinct.
Mike Heika's latest column says it all: "Four-game trip could reveal cracks in system or galvanize team".
Eric Nystrom will come into the lineup tonight and play 6-8 minutes, as the fourth line has been doing for Gulutzan this year. The remainder of the forward groups are expected to be same, and if I were a betting man I'd say the defensive pairings will be those that were used on Saturday as well. (Pardy-Goligoski, Daley-Grossman, Robidas-Souray.)
Kari Lehtonen will start in net.
How would you draw up your fourth line from Jake Dowell, Toby Petersen, Eric Nystrom, Krys Barch and Tom Wandell?
Columbus has been described by their own fans and beat writers as a "one line" team, and with Jeff Carter out on Tuesday to nurse a hairline fracture in his foot, it's easy to think they become something even less. Let's remember though: Rick Nash is still there.
Big #61 has a stellar 23 points in 29 career games against the Stars and was kept off the board on Saturday night, so he could be due.
The injury situation goes beyond Carter for Columbus. Their second, third and fourth best netminders in the entire organization are all hurt right now. They're relying on a special rule that allows them to recall a kid from Canadian Juniors and have him backup Steve Mason for a single game. Mathieu Corbeil, an unsigned 20 year old 2009 draft pick, will be allowed to spend 24 hours away from his junior team to back up Mason, then he must be returned. On the off chance that something happens to Mason, things could real interesting.
Tuesday's game against Dallas in Nationwide Arena will be telling.
The Blue Jackets have been outshot 51-18 since the start of the third period in Wednesday's loss to Colorado. They have been a one-line team, but now the center of the No. 1 line - Jeff Carter - is questionable for Tuesday because of a foot injury.
Nash called it a "must win."
"We're all on the same page," he said. "We have a great system, a great game plan. The players have to be held accountable. We have to hold each other accountable. We have to have an edge and play desperate."
The current lethargic play cannot continue. A repeat of Saturday's effort would seem unfathomable.
"You have to be really concerned if that happens, because that means there's no heart," Umberger said. "I don't see that happening. I think we have heart. I fully expect our team to respond the right way on Tuesday."
A team doing this much soul searching before the sixth game of the season is a bad thing for Dallas, and Arniel will get the matchups he wants with the Nash and Prospal line. As big as the Ribeiro line was on Saturday, they may have to come up with some even better shifts tonight that have more to do with defense than offense.