Thursday, February 23rd, 2012, 7:30 PM CST
Opponent Blog: Second City Hockey
Coming off one of their most complete games of the season in a 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday, the Dallas Stars have an opportunity to finally claim a share of eighth place in the West with a win tonight in a hostile building over a pretty hot Chicago team.
It was a big game for us," said the game's first star Mike Ribeiro. "We threw pucks at the net, kept the game simple, our PK did a great job and obviously our goaltender has to be there every night to give you a chance to win."
Tonight that goaltender will be Stars' backup Richard Bachman, in place of Kari Lehtonen.
The Blackhawks lost their first six games out of the All-Star break and nine straight overall (0-8-1). Many hopefuls in the Western Conference thought they might slide all the way down into the soup that is 7th through 13th place, but they've since righted their ship with an impressive four game wins streak and instead are chasing the Nashville Predators, looking to move up and get themselves home ice advantage for the post season.
Chicago man-handled the Stars 5-2 at United Center on the season's second night this year, and the two clubs split meetings in Illinois last year. The Stars have not won consecutive road games since December 13th and 15th. They've won two in a row on the road, with the second being a Western Conference team, just once this year in mid October.
More on each team after the jump...
All eyes will be on Dallas Stars backup net-minder Richard Bachman tonight as he tries to get his team a second consecutive victory for the first time in a long time. Kari Lehtonen had started 14 of the team's last 15 games dating back to mid-January.
Bachman has lost his last two starts, both against similarly superior, elite Western Conference teams in the Detroit Red Wings (stopped 30 of 32 at home in a loss) and the San Jose Sharks (stopped 32 of 37 in a loss). He'll face the same type of gauntlet in Chicago tonight and Kari Lehtonen will be back in the pipes, presumably, tomorrow night as the Stars take on the Wild on the second night of back to back.
Jamie Benn is very doubtful for this one, still dealing with his leg laceration and charley horse back in Dallas. Jake Dowell will be out with an upper body injury. Brenden Morrow continues to rehab his back in Dallas. Adam Burish missed Tuesday's game with an illness and could be questionable tonight.
The one good bit of injury news is that Sheldon Souray figures to be back tonight, presumably in place of Adam Pardy or perhaps Mark Fistric. It will be interesting to see what happens to the defense pairings in that case.
Stephane Robidas could move back with Souray, Daley could stay with Fistric and Goligoski could move back with Philip Larsen. That would give reasonable balance in most skill sets throughout the pairings. We'll see what Gulutzan chooses.
Without Benn, Morrow, Dowell and maybe Burish, the forward lines continue to transform. Tomas Vincour and Ryan Garbutt had strong games in Montreal, as did Toby Petersen, who hasn't played much lately. Will the Stars bring call up Matt Fraser into the lineup, and will it be at the bottom? Does Vincour slide up in that case?
Eriksson-Ribeiro-Rdyer provide an obvious first line, and the Fiddler trio makes an obvious third, but the second line of Tom Wandell, Steve Ott and various friends has not threatened offensively. They'll continue to struggle to find balance until Jamie Benn returns (which could be Friday, but more likely Sunday).
From Stars PR: "With their win against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night, the Stars earned their 15 consecutive 30-win season. It is the fifth longest current streak in the NHL with Detroit (21), Colorado (19), New Jersey (16) and Toronto (15) all having longer 30-win streaks than Dallas. The Stars are now just two victories shy of earning the franchise's 1,500th all-time victory. They will be the tenth team in NHL history to reach 1,500."
Jonathan Toews will, reportedly, miss tonight's game with an upper body injury upon which their coaching staff is disinclined to elaborate. He missed the game against the Red Wings on Tuesday as well but the Hawks were victorious anyway. Toews is their leading scorer with 29 goals. There is some speculation going around that the injury could be concussion related.
They will, however, get a boost from returning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson who missed their last seven games with an upper body injury.
A very stacked Hawks power play lineup has been utterly stimied lately on the man advantage. Chicago's power play is scoreless in 11 games straight, going 0 of last 30 attempts. They Have not generated more than three power play chances in a single game in all that time after routinely forcing their opponents into givig them four or five chances a night before that. The better the Stars are at continuing that trend, the better off they'll be.
The Hawks penalty kill has had very different experiences lately as Chicago's number of times shorthanded swings wildly from as many as 5, 6, or 7 to just 1 or 0 times a night. Taking out one bad night against the Sharks, who do tend to do that to you, they've killed 25 of their last 28 penalties. (89.2%).
CSN Chicago talks about the Hawks breaking out of their big slump...
There comes a time when teams - sometimes too long in many observers' minds - just gets sick of losing. Depending on how good that team is, it has a better chance of controlling any reversal of fortune.
The Hawks are good, and while it's unrealistic to think they can keep up this kind of pace throughout the remainder of the regular season, there's now the proof a commitment to doing the dirty little things (sounds like a TV show or movie, doesn't it?) can pay dividends.
There seems to be a whole different level of "want to" on this team we hadn't previously seen. Maybe it's a matter of getting through some of the dog days. Maybe they get tired of hearing the criticism. But after finally snapping the streak last Thursday, then having a fairly easy win Saturday, they faced two very difficult challenges coming home versus division rivals.
Keith-Hjalmarsson? (has been Olsen)
Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 32 against Detroit Tuesday night to record his fourth straight victory. He has a .958 save percentage over his last four starts and has stopped 115 of 120 shots. Richard Bachman will have to be his best to combat that.