Wednesday, February 29th, 2012, 6:30 PM CST
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: PensBurgh
The Stars are back in action tonight at the American Airlines Center against the Pittsburgh Penguins after enjoying their first two day break in three weeks. Dallas is riding a four game win-streak, trying to retain a tenuous grasp on eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race.
The four consecutive victories came without the team's best player in Jamie Benn, who missed six games total with a leg laceration suffered against the Calgary Flames at home- But no longer. Jamie Benn is back tonight.
"It went well. I felt good out there," said Benn of his first full practice back Tuesday. "It was good to get back out there with the guys, skate around, have some fun and do some high-paced drills. I feel ready to go."
Tuesday night was a bad one for scoreboard watching as the Kings beat the Wild on the road and the Coyotes went to a shootout, again, and beat the Canucks, giving them a five point lead over the Stars. The Kings pulled even with Dallas and Colorado at 70 points. The Sharks moved to 73 with a win over Philadelphia. A rapid points pace is necessary now for Dallas as teams all around them improve and push harder.
Pittsburgh enters having won three straight and six of their last eight overall. They've surrendered just three total goals in their last three games and like the Stars, have been off since Sunday afternoon. Alex Goligoski was hurt in the team's previous meeting, a 3-1 win for the Pens in Pittsburgh. Last season the Stars defeated the Penguins in early November at the AAC by a score of 5-2 in a game that featured four fights.
If you're heading out to the game tonight remember that this is a 6:30 start. If you're staying home remember that it's on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus).
More on each team after the jump...
Jamie Benn is back. Brenden Morrow is expected to start skating sometime in the near future after rehabbing his back/neck issue again, and Jake Dowell is still on the mend with a broken finger. In the mean time, lines are expected to look something like this to start the game...
The unenviable task of watching the Sedin line on Sunday fell to the Fiddler trio, though they didn't always take the draw against them if it was in the defensive zone. Will Gulutzan employ a similar strategy tonight to watch the Malkin line, or will the checking prowess of Ott and Burish now combined with Jamie Benn take a whack? Some of both, we're guessing, but it's a big item of intrigue heading into this one.
According to Stars PR, Dallas has a 1-5-1 record against them over the last seven games, and the Stars are 1-1-1 on leap days in their history.
The Stars are on their fourth four game win-streak of the season currently, trying to equal their best of five games which came early on, in games three through seven. Dallas had four such streaks (four games or longer) last year.
Kari Lehtonen, of course, will start in net. He is 7-4-2 in his career versus the Penguins with a 2.79 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.
The Pens have had their ups and downs this season, but the ups always last longer. They lost six straight around the New Year. Then they ratlled off eight victories in a row (five of which went to overtime). They lost three of five after that, but have followed it up by winning six of eight. They're a fairly mediocre 16-13-3 on the road this season, but are a very strong 9-2-3 against the West this season, including 2-1-1 against teams from the Pacific Division.
Pittsburgh is a near 5-0-2 against Western Conference teams on the road this year, and five of the seven have reached overtime or beyond. Since November 5th they've played just once in the West, a 3-2 shootout win in St. Louis (tough place to win) on January 24th.
Their prolific offense is hit or miss on the road, but mostly miss lately. They've scored two goals or fewer in six of their last seven road games, with a six goal effort breaking that up at Philadelphia. They can be stingy too, having give up two goals or fewer 15 times away from Consol Energy Center this season.
The Penguins have killed 27 of their last 28 times short-handed, and the power play has been a sore spot for the Stars lately. They've score just one power play goal in their last five games, but that's because they've only had SIX opportunities in that span. Pittsburgh has give up nearly four chances a game in their last seven road games, so maybe the Stars can force them into some mistakes and take advantage. Having Jamie Benn back should help there too, if he's able to skate at 100%.
Pittsburgh was quiet on deadline day. Our SB Nation partners at Pensbirgh explain:
The Penguins, long-rumored to possibly pickup any of a forward, depth defenseman or a backup goalie, decided to do nothing and stand pat. Pittsburgh's big addition, if it ever comes, will be Sidney Crosby back to the lineup. Crosby's neck/head symptoms continue but he is practicing with the team in non-contact situations and able to exert himself physically to some extent.
The Pens lineup:
Johnson (day to day)
Expect the guy they call Flower in net. He's 32-14-3 on the year with a .912 save percentage and a 2.34 GAA. He's stopped 61 of the last 62 pucks he's seen coming into this one.