Tuesday, November 15th, 2011, 7:30 PM CST
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: Litter Box Cats
A disappointing weekend for the Dallas Stars saw them take tie games into consecutive third periods, only to watch the Penguins and Red Wings pull away en route to 3-1 and 5-2 losses. That back-to-back set ended a four game road sojourn and Dallas returns home with their first losing streak of the season, but with a .500 mark on the trip. They'll look to right the ship against the Florida Panthers tonight at 7:30pm CST on Fox Sports Southwest.
The Stars enter play in second place overall in the Western Conference, with just a three point cushion over division rivals in San Jose, Phoenix and Los Angeles, all tied at 19. That three point differential in the division is also the same margin separating the Stars and 10th place in the Conference. Such is life in the West. Dallas will need to get back to their winning ways quickly to keep pace, and they'll have to do it for the next month without Alex Goligoski, lost to a broken thumb over the weekend.
The Panthers are a bit of an enigma this young season. They're much improved, owing to the large number of payroll dollars they added in the off-season just to get to the cap floor, they've lost four in a row on home ice, yet have won four of their last five away from BankAtlantic Center, making them a formidable opponent tonight for the Stars. Their loss to Philadelphia on Sunday snapped an impressive six-game point streak.
Florida did not play at American Airlines Center last season. The Stars are 1-1-1 at home against the Panthers since the lockout, including a 6-5 shootout loss, Florida's last game in Dallas.
Dallas captain Brenden Morrow is one point away from the 500th of his career.
A closer look at both teams after the jump...
Dallas will put their MVP Kari Lehtonen back in the net tonight after backup Andrew Raycroft drew back-to-back duty in Detroit on Saturday night. Lehtonen is familiar with the Panthers franchise from his days in Atlanta, posting a career record of 13-5-4 against them with a 2.36 GAA and .928 save percentage, including three shutouts.
Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann represented a tremendous challenge for the Stars in the preseason and their stellar start to the year presents the Stars with an interesting matchup situation. Keep an eye on that line night and track where Gulutzan puts the Benn line. He has put that trio up head to head with other "number one" lines but the Fiddler/Nystrom/Dvorak combination could draw those assignments as well.
As the road trip wore on the Stars lost some of those chess matches in Pittsburgh and Detroit with the Benn line largely kept in check by tremendous defensive efforts focused on doing just that. With the Stars back at home for five of their next six, it's time for Glen Gulutzan to take advantage of "last change" and as he likes to say, "make some hay."
Steve Ott will be a game time decision tonight, or not even, depending on how morning skate goes at the AAC. Should he play it will be interesting to see where he's placed. The Benn/Eriksson/Ryder trio were unstoppable for several games but cooled significantly in Pittsburgh and Detroit. Does Ott go right back with them if he's back in the lineup?
After not playing in Detroit, don't look for Philip Larsen tonight either. Gulutzan said he thinks the young d-man is ready to be an NHL regular but that they'll rely on their six healthy "veteran" defensemen for the time being. Alex Goligoski, of course, is out for at least a month with an injured hand.
It's a new day for the Dallas Stars and they're back in the comfy confines of the American Airlines Center, true, but the story remains exactly the same: Here comes another team with an elite power play, and the Stars are one of the most penalized teams in the league.
Consider the following: The Panthers have the 4th best power play in the league at 21.5%. The Panthers have spent a total of 28:02 MORE on the power play than they have on the penalty kill this season. That's the 3rd best differential in the league. The Stars are on the opposite end of the spectrum having spent 25:00 MORE on the penalty kill than the power play (29th in the league). That's a 53 minute difference. That's a good way to give yourself the chance to win games if you're Florida.
Florida has the least "times shorthanded" in the league at only 46, meaning opponents average only 2.8 power plays a game against them.
So like Pittsburgh, like Washington, like Detroit and like Colorado (who's coming up again on Saturday...) the heavily penalized Stars have to find a way to win, or at least stay even in the special teams battle against teams that excel in that area.
The Panthers are led on the power play by Brian Campbell (11 PP points), Kris Versteeg (8 PP points) and Tomas Fleischmann (5 power play points).
**Stats compiled before the conclusion of Monday night's games.