The waiting is the hardest part for Dallas Stars fans when a four day break comes up in the middle of the season like this, but the rest for the team and improved health should heavily outweigh the minor inconvenience. Action resumes tomorrow with the Stars' lengthiest trip of the year, both in number of days(9) and number of games(5).
Dallas has started 6-6-0 on the road this year in their quest to better last season's mark of 20-18-3, and there are some definite opportunities for improvement...
Stars Road Stats
*I can't rightly tell you what road shots per game are league-wide but the Stars 26.4, if applied to the overall shots/game numbers in the league, would be near the very bottom. (26.2 is 30th in the league as I write this late Tuesday night).
While the Stars have a good road record over all (.500 on the road and make hay at home, right? That's what they say...) the problem clearly has been finding the back of the net. They've been shutout three times already in their first 12 road games (Los Angeles, Colorado, Phoenix) and outside the two five-goal outbursts in Washington and Carolina they've been pretty quiet offensively away from the AAC.
Luckily the returns of Alex Goligoski, Trevory Daley and Brenden Morrow promise to help boost the output and take some of the burden off the Nystrom line, which has been killing it as of late.
A brief look at each team on the trip follows, if you care to take a look before voting in the poll...
First up it's the Sharks. Trips to the Shark tank might prove bittersweet this season. I can't speak for all Stars fans but games there generally conjure happy memories for me. Certainly the Stars have been very successful over the years there. Mike Modano loved to play there. All the players say it's a fun building to play in and it pumps them up. This will mark the first of three trips to the Bay this year. Only one trip per season will follow that for the foreseeable future. The Dallas/San Jose dance is almost at an end.
The Sharks themselves present the same old news a hundred different ways. They're dominant, they're hungry. They think this is their year. It's the same old story. The power play is lethal, they put a ton of rubber on net (23 shots against Minnesota in one period last night) and they're talented throughout the lineup. Burns and Boyle both on the back end is an embarrassment of riches, and Niemi has been great (10-2-1, .921 save percentage). San Jose dismantled the Stars thoroughly in Dallas last month. It will be an uphill climb trying to punch back in this, their first game in 5 days while trying to reintegrate newly healthy bodies in Morrow, Daley and perhaps Goligoski.
Update via Pro Hockey Talk here... The Sharks are shaking up their top line tonight, putting Winchester up there and moving Marleau with Handzus on the third line. It will be a very tough night physically for whoever has to keep that top line in check.
Trips to Staples Center are notoriously hard to predict and nearly always heartbreaking for the Stars one way or another. This season has been no kinder as Dallas went into Kobe's house on October 22nd and played probably their best game of the season to that date, only to walk out with a 1-0 loss. Andrew Raycroft was fantastic in that one and he'll need to be again if the Stars are going to hang with Los Angeles' preferred low-scoring games. They've allowed just eight goals in their last five games. The Stars took one from L.A. in Dallas a couple of weeks ago, though they trailed with only 20 seconds to play.
As of this writing Dallas has a one point lead on them and a game in hand. Much like last year, a highly touted Kings team with a big payroll and high expectations is languishing at the tail end of the playoff picture. They've been without Mike Richards for a short time due to a concussion. There's a chance he could be back for this one Saturday.
In New York, Brad Richards is having a remarkably Brad Richards-like year. He has 23 points in 24 games (10-13-23). Nine of those points, of course, have come on the power play. He's also one of only THREE regular skaters on the Rangers with a minus number on the year (-2). Like I said, it's a typical Brad Richards season. His team is pretty frightening, though. They just won 12 of 14 and sit 4th in the East, just three points out of first overall.
The Rangers are 7-2-1 in their newly revamped Madison Square Garden, and also boast former Stars in Jeff Woywitka and the famous Sean Avery, who brought you Eric Nystrom. New York is stingy, giving up only 2.21 a game. For a Stars team that struggles to score on the road already, this could be a big problem. The Brad Richards story line is nice for the national media but after visiting SJS and the LAK, chances are the W will be the only thing that matters in this one.
Who'd have thought a week ago that this New York Islander game might be one of the more intriguing on the trip? The Islanders 5-4 dismantling of the Stars last week is the leading candidate for most frustrating game of the season thus far. Four goals from Matt Moulson paced them to just their third road victory of the season. They entered the game scoring 2.04 goals per game... worst in the league, and walked out with five tallies and two points. Andrew Raycroft was not as good as he had been in his previous two games and the Stars' top two lines were absent from the score sheet. It had aberration written all over it. The rematch comes just twelve days later and the Stars can set things right by taking these two points. Just keep an eye on Matt Moulson, and Mark Fistric's presence or lack thereof could be a story line too. Dallas took a shootout decision in Long Island last October.
@New Jersey Devils (Back to Back)
As of this writing the New Jersey Devils are 13-12-1 and clinging to 11th place in the Eastern Conference. It's interesting to note, however, that they have only 8 regulation/overtime wins. They're surviving by virtue of being 5-1 in the shootout already this early in the year. They ended a five game losing streak last night by defeating the Leafs in overtime (almost a shootout again). Dallas beat the Devils 3-1 in October but it was a 1-1 game until midway in the third. The Stars would add an empty netter and the score did not quite tell the story. The Devils out shot Dallas 32-23 and Kari Lehtonen was the hero. No such luxury this time around, of course.
This will be the final game of the trip, and though travel is light in the
cushy North East, the Stars will be on the second night of a back to back. Is this where Richard Bachman gets his first NHL start?