The summer of 2011 was filled with change for the Dallas Stars. The team decided to part ways with Marc Crawford and hire 40 year old Glen Gulutzan from the American Hockey League. They parted ways also with Brad Richards and turned over nearly a third of the club's roster in the process, bringing in free agents like Michael Ryder, Vernon Fiddler and Sheldon Souray. The change will roll on into the regular season as the Stars will get a new owner before Thanksgiving, and tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks the team hopes to begin the most important change of all: Making the playoffs after a three year drought.
With the departure of Crawford and hiring of Glen Gulutzan many Stars players are on their third head coach in four seasons, but if learning yet another system is challenging they have yet to show it on the ice. The Stars went 6-1 and outscored their opponents 29-14 in the preseason while installing what Coach Gulutzan calls "the backbone" of his system.
Despite a 2-4-1 preseason record, the Blackhawks are a popular choice to go far in the playoffs this year and return to their Stanley Cup form of 2010. Dallas went 3-1 against Chicago last year, who parted ways with former Stars' netminder Marty Turco over the summer and added Ray Emery to backup Corey Crawford.
They'll throw out every one of those numbers and start fresh tonight on Fox Sports Southwest at 7:30pm at the American Airlines Center and we hope to see you all there for Glen Gulutzan's official NHL debut. Hockey is back! The Stars can finally start answering the "without Brad Richards" questions tonight the way they really want to: on the ice.
Let's take a look at the injury situation and line combinations for both teams after the jump...
As the Stars have approached opening night the enthusiasm from a stellar preseason has been dampened somewhat by a series of minor injuries to Brenden Morrow, Jamie Benn, Adam Burish, Nicklas Grossman and Adam Pardy. Morrow and Benn have healed and will be in the lineup tonight but the others are doubtful.
Adam Burish skated yesterday for the first time in nearly ten days and says he feel better, but Gulutzan was unsure of his status for Friday. "He's very close. Whether he gets in tomorrow or not, I don't know, because it's one practice. We'll see. I'm sure he's a real probable for Saturday.''
Adam Pardy sustained a rib injury in the team's final preseason game in St. Louis and is out this weekend, though it's possible he could be back on Monday against the Coyotes. Nicklas Grossman is dealing with a groin injury and will not play tonight. That leaves Paul Jerrard's defense two short of what was thought to be it's starting six. In their place will play (and play together, reportedly) Mark Fistric and Philip Larsen.
After three preseason games together and a handful of practices, Loui Eriksson was taken off the Fiddler/Dvorak line yesterday and Steve Ott was placed there in his stead. With Toews and Sharp on one line and Hossa and Kane on another, it will be interesting to see what matchups Gulutzan opts for with last change at home, and how Chicago will take advantage of the situation tomorrow night.
The Hawks famously backed into the NHL playoffs last year, losing control of their own destiny on the season's final afternoon to the Detroit Red Wings. The Stars then failed to best Minnesota that night and Chicago proceeded to Vancouver for a seven game series with the Canucks.
A busy off-season churned the bottom of their lineup significantly but their core remains intact from a Stanley Cup just a year and a half ago with Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook, etc still leading the charge.
Their expected forward lineup, via ESPN Chicago:
Bolland is out, however, and Brandon Pirri is expected to fill in. Ben Smith is still suffering the effects of a concussion so we'll see what they do there, but their third and fourth lines aren't the concern, so much as the impressive talent on the top two lines that now includes noted Dallas Star killer Andrew Brunette. He terrorized the Stars with Colorado and Minnesota, and now has Kane and Hossa on his line to help him inflict more damage.
Dan Carcillo is expected join this lineup after a two game suspension to start the season (due to an incident in last years playoffs), and so will Viktor Stalberg when he eventually returns from a leg injury suffered in the preseason.
Gone is Marty Turco after a half season starting for the Blackhawks. The man who supplanted him, Corey Crawford, moves into the number one position in net and he'll be backed up this year by Ray Emery.