The Stars entered the break on a high after a solid 6-3 drubbing of the Nashville Predators Friday night. They make a quick one game trip to St. Louis tonight before three more at American Airlines Center. Dallas won three of five on a recent road trip, then two of three last week at home. They're pushing forward, slowly but surely, and come into this one owning their conference's 7th best points percentage.
Dallas has gone 7-4 in the games following their MVP Kari Lehtonen's groin injury, and there's a chance this could be the last. The big Finn could possibly* return on Thursday against Columbus.
Stars' fans are as familiar as any with the changes the Blues have made. Doug Armstrong, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, and BJ Crombeen have been discussed at length in this space but they enter with another Dallas alum this time in Ken Hitchcock, who took over the St. Louis bench on November 6th.
He has, as you well know by now, sparked the Blues to an uproariously good stretch of 14-3-4 since taking the job. They're ten games over .500, all of which are accounted for in their stellar home record of 13-3-1. True to his form, Hitch's team gives up very little. The Stars will need to rely on their injured defense and goaltending to stay in the hunt for a full 60.
Please note that the game is on Versus again (6:30pm start time), their third appearance on the network in less than a week.
More on each team after the jump...
The CBA mandates that hockey activity stop completely on Christmas eve and Christmas day, so that leaves the Stars in a bit of an odd situation with needing to be in St. Louis on December 26th to play a game. The players will gather in Frisco for a brief skate early in the morning at 9:00am, board a plane, make the short flight and then hopefully get a nap in at a hotel before the game.
Two days off also means that we have no knowledge of their injury situation and won't until later today. Stephane Robidas has missed the last two games with a foot injury. The latest before the break was that they were hoping he'd be ready for tonight, so we'll see. Sheldon Souray left the game Friday night with an ankle injury and will be evaluated today. Both are questionable.
That means that Philip Larsen and Adam Pardy could both play again. The Stars dressed 7 defensemen on Friday and gave Pardy plenty of burn, partially due to Souray leaving the game. Larsen was given 23 minutes Friday, second on the team to Goligoski.
Expect the forward group and lines to remain the same from last week
A starter had not been announced as of Friday but with Richard Bachman playing as well as he has, getting the vote of confidence from the coaching staff he has, you'd have to bet on him tonight to oppose Brian Elliott.
According to Stars PR, 'Dallas has won five consecutive games against the Blues, and have not allowed St. Louis to score over two goals in a single game in six consecutive contests against them.'
The change in the St. Louis Blues since Ken Hitchcock took over has been nothing short of mind boggling. The switch was made when the team was 6-7-0 on the season on November 6th (inexplicably. Evidently their expectations for their first 13 games were not being met) and since then the team has gone 14-3-4. That's .762 hockey and only three disappointing nights for Blues fans in two months.
They don't blow anyone out of the water offensively (2.62 goals per game since Hitch took over) but have been the league's best defensive team, allowing only 1.67 goals per game in that stretch. If a team gets two in their net, they're ahead of the game.
They're only shorthanded 3.4 times per game (again, since Hitch took over) and special teams haven't figured into this stellar stretch of play much. 86% on the penalty kill and just 11.8% on the power play aren't much better than they were doing in the opening 13 games.
St. Louis excels 5-on-5, rather, with a 1.50 5-5 GF/GA ratio (4th best in the league).
They've also been doing this with injuries and are now seeing some people come back, bolstering their depth even further and threatening to solidify their position as one of the conference's very best teams all the more.
The Blues aren't completely healthy, but with the expected returns of Vladimir Sobotka and B.J. Crombeen before the new year, and with Andy McDonald starting light exercise in his comeback from a concussion, the makeup of the club is approaching what management envisioned.
"This is what we tried to work towards this summer," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "There's a lot of good pieces to this puzzle, and I look forward to the day when (coach) Ken (Hitchcock) has those really, really difficult decisions because we have no injured players."
With Hitchcock's club resting in fourth place in the Western Conference during the Christmas break, adding the likes of the Blues' walking wounded will create more competition for ice time and force the team to re-assign to the minor leagues players who currently are contributing.
"Those are tough decisions that you want to have to make because it puts the responsibility on the players," Hitchcock said. [STLPD]
Expect Brian Elliott in goal and his stats are just silly. 14-3-0 on the year with a .943 save percentage and a 1.55 GAA.
They're 10-2-1 at home under Ken Hitchcock.
Blues lineup recently: