Thursday, October 27th, 2011, 7:30 PM CDT
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: Jewels From The Crown
The surprising Dallas Stars (7-2-0) could find themselves with the most points in the National Hockey League by the end of Thursday night if things fall just right, but the stingy Los Angeles Kings stand in their way, having just shutout the Stars on Saturday night 1-0. Captain Brenden Morrow's team returns from their first extended road trip of the season with three victories (3-1-0) and, though it is very early, the outright lead in the Pacific Division.
This three game Dallas home stand comes in the middle of an eleven game stretch that sees the Stars play eight times away from the American Airlines Center. After winning their first four contests at home, this is a place where head coach Glen Gulutzan feels they can "make some hay," as he has said repeatedly this October.
Los Angeles enters the game looking to bounce back from a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night and to show their talented roster is capable of more than just 2.12 goals per game, good for 22nd in the league this young season.
They're also hoping to get Drew Doughty back in the lineup tonight. The defenseman has missed the team's last four games with a shoulder injury. "I feel ready to play and almost back to normal," said Doughty. "Now it's just kind of in the hands of the training staff and the coaching staff to put me in."
Doughty or no Doughty, more than anything else tonight figures to be another close contest owing in no small part to netminders Quick and Lehtonen: Two early Vezina candidates if ever there were any.
Action starts at 7:30pm CDT. If you're not going to the AAC tonight be sure to check out our GDT and talk Stars hockey live with us.
A look at both teams after the jump...
A quick note about the baseball game:
It should be noted in this space that game six of the World Series was postponed yesterday due to expected inclement weather in St. Louis, meaning the Texas Rangers will start their bid to clinch their first world title tonight at 7:05pm CDT just before this one starts.
During game six of the ALCS, the American Airlines Center televisions on all concourses did show the baseball game, and many fans chose to split their time between that and the hockey game. The prospect of missing the baseball game in favor of the Stars October regular season contest might be unsavory, but honestly, the camaraderie on the concourse for the Rangers clincher in the ALCS was pretty great. I do hope if you have tickets you'll make it out to experience both games at the same time. It's a unique experience.
The big news out of the Phoenix game was the shuffling of lines late in the third period to stoke the offensive fires of a team trying to breach Dave Tippett's impenetrable wall of one-goal-lead-defense. The addition of Adam Burish to the Mike Ribeiro line paid off in a big way, and after the game Gulutzan said he was trying to generate some chemistry not only there, but between Michael Ryder and Vernon Fiddler on what we'll call the third line.
Wedensday, after an optional skate, Gulutzan addressed the thought that the lines could stay that way moving forward.
"I think we're going to go back with Rydes,'' Gulutzan said. "I did it for 10-12 minutes in the third and it worked. But Phoenix plays such a methodical defensive game and we just thought we needed a spark. Bur can do that for us, and that helped us in the end."
We'll keep an eye on that in the late going if the Stars continue to generate offense like they have been: Which is to say not nearly as much as they'd probably like. They've scored just six times in their last nine periods overall, and just twice in the last six. They haven't held a lead in two games.
Dallas went just one for eight on the PP during their four game road trip. They'll look to improve that tonight against a team that hasn't been allowing many PP chances lately, as well as avoid the first-home-game-after-a-long-trip letdown often seen in the league.
Kari Lehtonen is expected to be in net. We'll have news of 4th line and D-pair scratches after morning skate. The roster is presumed completely healthy at this time.
Los Angeles has been lauded of late for their stellar defensive play and goaltending. Jonathan Quick earned the NHL's number one star last week for three straight shutouts, including blanking the Stars last Saturday night.
By the time that contest was done the Kings had gone about 287 minutes (14 periods) without allowing an even strength goal against. They crossed 300 minutes without surrendering an even strength goal before the Devils finally broke though for three of them on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Jon Quick was not in net.
As feared as they are defensively for all of that, they're starting to develop a bit of problem with their offense. One was enough against Dallas, two enough to beat Phoenix the game before that, and they scored none against the Devils (who bring a very tough challenge to the AAC on Saturday night). That's three goals in their last three games. They've scored only eleven 5-on-5 goals on the year so far.
Today, Terry Murray was asked if that was an area of concern...
MURRAY: "Absolutely. That's an area of concern when you look at the last three years. Our offensive game is not as good as what we need it to be. It's been one of the lower stats that we look at, in 5-on-5 play over the years. I think everybody is aware of it. We've got to get more of a shot mentality. That is, no question, an area of concern. We look at the average shots on goal, as compared to the rest of the league, and we're down to 27th, 28th in the league. So that has to improve in order to score. At the same time though, in saying that, I think we've had some really good looks. Last night, we had some opportunities, and we're not finding the back of the net right now. We've just got to reinforce it, the good things that are happening, and build on it and I think it will start to turn around.''
Between the Stars commitment to defense and Kari Lehtonen in the pipes, Stars fans hope the Kings struggles continue on the offensive side of things. Almost exactly one year ago (October 28th, 2010) the Kings came to the AAC during a World Series game and defeated the Stars 5-2 in front of a small crowd. The Rangers lost as well. Both teams will look to avoid an eery repeat one year later tonight at 7:30pm on FS SW HD.