Saturday, October 29th, 2011, 7:00 PM CDT
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: In Lou We Trust
The Texas Rangers incredible run of not having lost two in a row since mid August may have come to an end last night, but the Dallas Stars are trying to start a run of their own on that front. Glen Gultuzan's team will look to avoid their first official losing streak of the season tonight when the New Jersey Devils greet them at the American Airlines Center. The Devils beat the same Los Angeles Kings that defeated the Stars on Thursday by a score of 3-0 Tuesday night, and like the Stars in Phoenix they'll be looking to close out a four game road trip with a strong statement.
This marks the first Eastern Conference matchup for the Stars this season, and it was a real strength for them last year. Dallas went 11-5-2 against the East last season, and according to Stars PR the 11 victories were the most since 2000-01, when the team won 17 games against Eastern Conference opponents.
The Stars went 1-1 against New Jersey last year, defeating them in overtime on opening night and then losing to them at the AAC in February by a score of 1-0 (Alex Goligoski's first game as a Star, if I remember correctly).
Before tonight's puck is dropped the Stars will honor former player and current General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk's accomplishment of being select for induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame in November. (The 14th). The Stars ask that patrons be in their seats by 6:45 if they wish to view the pre-game festivities. New Jersey is a natural choice for such proceedings as he did win a Stanley Cup with them as well in 2002-2003.
The Devils are focused on playing a game that is not at all dissimilar to that of the Stars, so it could be another Phoenix/Los Angeles-esque contest tonight on TXA-21 at 7:00pm...
Steve Ott suffered a rib injury Thursday night, apparently inflicted by an opponents skate, but he's expected to be ready to play Saturday as the Stars try to close out an important stretch before a well-earned five day break.
Dallas is starting to push back in the SOG differential department after an abysmal start there, out-shooting their opponents on average by about three over their last three games. The Devils have allowed nearly as many as the Stars have this year per contest. (32.0 vs 32.7).
Alex Goligoski, who knows a thing or two about the Eastern Conference, was asked about playing a team like the Devils and their style of play.
"It's splitting hairs. They're all NHL players. Coaches don't coach any differently," Goligoski said. "A team like New Jersey, they are going to be very defensive. They have Parise and Kovalchuk, who are go out there and wheel around and play the offense, but for the most part they'll play pretty defensive. It's pretty similar to the way things are out here."
So that gives you an idea of what the Stars expect from this contest. It could get pretty muddy, similar to a Phoenix Coyotes game. The Devils have succeeded at that for over a decade, getting tripped up recently when they tried to get away from that style. The parallels in story lines from these two teams over the last few seasons are quite striking when seen through the right prism.
With the club healthy, the fourth line will continue to be shuffled. Mark Fistric played on Thursday so you'd expect to see Pardy back tonight, but everything is possible.
Kari Lehtonen is expected to be in net.
One of the big surprises in the league this year has been former Dallas Stars netminder Johan Hedberg and the job he's doing for the Devils in Marty Brodeur's stead. New Jersey doesn't have an apparent plan in place to address the hall of famers age in net, but Hedberg has been a great fill in at the age of 38 and the Stars will have to try to solve him tonight, where the Kings could not on Tuesday.
We turn to fellow SB Nation site "In Lou We Trust" for a few words on the Devils after their loss to the Coyotes on Thursday...
The Stars have been a bit like the Devils this season. In addition to their defense allowing quite a few shots, they've won games by holding their opponents to few goals while scoring just enough to win. Dallas has actually been better than New Jersey in terms of goals against per game: 2.2/game to 2.5/game. The Stars actually average a shot on net fewer per game than the Devils (27/game to 28/game); while they're only a little more prolific when it comes to goals per game (2.30/game to 2.12/game). Both teams wish their power play was more effective, as both teams are in the bottom third of the league (Dallas: 13.9%, New Jersey 11.5%).
The similarities are quite striking, as John points out here. The Devils could use some improvement on their power play and the Stars are handing out power plays per game to the tune of 2nd most in the league so far. That is a major concern going forward, because when a struggling unit comes to town, you don't want to give them a reason to heat up (like they did with Columbus earlier this month).
The Coyotes did manage to get 42 shots on Herberg Thursday night en route to a 5-3 victory, so with discipline, the Stars hope they could see similar results.