Sunday, February 19th, 2012, 6:00 PM CST
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: On the Forecheck
"We played hard, but we need results," said Glen Gulutzan after the Dallas Stars' loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night at Jobing.com Arena. "It’s a results based business and we need results. We need to capitalize and we can’t make a mistake at the end to give away a point."
Attention after the game centered on the giveaway that followed a seemingly important defensive zone faceoff win by Steve Ott. "Unforced," opined Gulutzan Saturday. "Gave it away." Mark Fistric controlled that puck behind the Dallas net and then Ray Whitney stole it before centering it to Vrbata for the win.
That singular play failed to extend the Stars' chance to collect two points, but the larger-scale problem that is lack-of-offense reared its ugly ahead again last night and is the true reason for the Stars' struggles. Dallas has scored two or fewer goals in 13 of their last 16 games. In those 16 games overall they've scored just 30 times (one an empty net goal, one came in overtime, and six came in a single effort against the Ducks). That's 1.87 goals per game, or even less weeding out those special cases.
The loss dropped the Stars five points back of the Coyotes, against whom Dallas has just one meeting remaining (at home, a month from today). The Stars are three points back of Calgary for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Nashville, like Dallas, is 1-2-2 in their last five games. Unlike Dallas, however, those losses have come at the hands of the very best in the league: Detroit, Boston, Vancouver and...Ottawa? They don't all fit, but just roll with it.
Despite their recent slide of sorts, the Predators sit a comfortable ten points ahead of the Stars in 5th place in the Western Conference. They open a four game home stand after this one. The Stars have won both meetings with Nashville this year, including a 4-1 victory at Bridgestone Arena in January.
Much more on each team after the jump...
"We played hard and we played well," said Steve Ott Saturday night, "and If we come out and powerhouse Nashville and build off of this, all of the sudden we have five out of the last six points. But we have to get the points, and we have to win that game.''
The Stars know how critical this one is, but they continue battling a myriad of trends to get back on track. The most daunting of them is their record on the second night of back to backs: 0-8-2. The overtime losses have come recently and they've shown some progress in that area (see Buffalo a week ago), but they've yet to get that monkey off their back.
Dallas is just 1-2-2 in their last five games and 4-4-2 over their last ten.
With Brenden Morrow continuing to miss time and Jamie Benn sidelined with a leg laceration, the Stars line's continue to adjust to the situation. Last night the lines looked something like this...
The fourth line, though it's ever changing, continued to show some spark last night and they found themselves out there with just three minutes to go in regulation in a critical tie game, in a gesture of trust from their head coach. Ryan Garbutt played his first career NHL game, logging just 5:41, but made quite an impression, including three shots on goal.
A starter in net has yet to be named as of this writing. Richard Bachman has not started a game since February 2nd. Kari Lehtonen started both games of a back to back last week, losing the second to Buffalo in a shootout after a brilliant performance.
As Stars PR tells it, "The Stars will play their 11th back-to-back set on Saturday (at Phoenix) and Sunday (vs. Nashville). The club has an overall record of 5-12-2 with a 5-4-1 record on the first day, and a 0-8-2 record on the second day."
Nashville played the Detroit Red Wings to a stand still through 59 minutes and 55 seconds in their last outing. Then Pavel Datsyuk struck to break a 1-1 tie and claim the full two points, leaving the Preds empty handed.
"We should've had a point tonight," said Barry Trotz. "We're five seconds away from getting a point. But great players make great plays."
The Predators are 0-3-1 in their last four away from Bridgestone Arena, though comfortably in fifth place in the Western Conference race for the playoffs. Their oft-challenged ability score goals has produced at an impressive pace as of late, scoring 37 in their last 12 games (3.08 per game) and that has seen them move to #12 in the NHL at 2.74 goals per game.
Still, Nashville sticks to their roots and gets by on what they do best: Keeping pucks out of their own net. In that same 12 game span they've allowed just 24 goals past their netminders (an even 2.00 per game against).
He's not exactly a savior for the Predators - like forward Mike Fisher was a year ago - but his girth, prowess in his own end, and ability to liven up a locker room make him an important piece to Nashville's Stanley Cup puzzle.
"The best high you can ever have is being in that situation where the game is on the line," Gill said. "That's where I love the game. If we have to kill a penalty, and we're up a goal and there's a minute and a half left, that's where I love the game. That's where the challenge is there."
Gill has never scored more than six goals in a season. He has never notched more than 24 points. He has never averaged more than 24:13 ice time per game, and never less than 17:15 during a full 82-game season.
Simply, Gill is a defensive defenseman, whose numbers and impact are measured in small, yet noticeable ways to the trained eye.
Expect Pekka Rinne to start for Nashville this evening.