Thursday, March 8th, 2012, 7:30 PM CST
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: Fear The Fin
The Dallas Stars enter this one in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division, with the visiting San Jose Sharks looking to take it back with an important first step here tonight. With 77 points the Stars sit at 3rd place in the Conference, yet just three points out of 10th place. Their 7-0-1 run has been instrumental in catapulting them to where they are now, but the tightness of the race makes their position precarious, and it makes this game yet another must win.
"You definitely want to get as many points as you can, and we got them all on this trip," said Benn after the Vancouver win. "We're just playing a solid team game and everybody is buying in. That's what you need at a time like this."
The Sharks enter this one as a team looking to find itself, and this would seem a good place to do it. San Jose media may be painting this one as, for example, "Sharks to face supremely confident Stars", but styles make fights, and this match-up has been Dallas' kryptonite this year.
San Jose has out-scored Dallas 14-5 in three dominant wins, including that 4-1 shellacking at the American Airlines Center in November in which the Sharks put 38 shots on the Dallas net. 100 total PIMs were awarded in that one, so this one could be equally feisty.
The Sharks have out-shot Dallas 111-72 overall, and have thrown 183 pucks toward the Dallas net (shots + attempts blocked + missed shots) to just 162 for the Stars, illustrating, in part, the dichotomy of puck possession when the two meet.
Much more on each team after the jump...
The good news for Dallas is that there is no news. Trevor Daley left the game Tuesday night with what appeared to be some kind of back/neck injury, but returned and finished the contest. Everyone else has been healthy for a good stretch now, so the Stars will stick with what's been working lately...
Dallas could get some good news in the return of Captain Brenden Morrow soon, but he's been gone so long it could come as a shock the system. We'll be talking in this space soon about how he might fit best.
"I've haven't been out against the speed and pace and hitting of the regular season, so I need to practice with the team,'' said Morrow on Wednesday. "I'll definitely skate tomorrow, but I won't be ready to play.''
Toby Petersen has been waiting at home for the Stars return from that road trip after the birth of his new baby girl, and is a possibility to come into the lineup, but we'll expect things to be status quo while the team is winning.
Kari Lehtonen received valuable rest on Tuesday night when Richard Bachman defeated the Vancouver Canucks on the road to earn his 8th win of the year, and he'll be back in net tonight. Lehtonen has not played against the Sharks. Andrew Raycroft started two of the losses and Richard Bachman the other. This will the Sharks first look at Dallas' #1.
From Stars PR: "The Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks meet for the fourth time this season on Thursday night. Dallas has dropped the previous three games in the series against the Sharks and have lost their last four games against them overall. The Stars have a 7-1-2 record over their last 10 games which is the second-best record in the NHL only to Pittsburgh (8-2-0)."
"We're in a funk and we need to get out of it and get it going," said Douglas Murray. "It's easy to talk. We have to get it done on the ice, get some wins, get the confidence level up as a team. We're too good a team to let this go on any longer."
They're talking as though they're putting their foot down, and that Dallas is the unfortunate team standing in their way, but they've been putting their foot down for some time now. Since the Stars visited San Jose on February 2nd, the Sharks have dropped 12 of their last 14 games (4-10-2). They've managed just four total goals in their last four games. They dropped three straight at home and lost seven games of a nine game road trip before that.
Don't be fooled be those numbers, however. The Sharks have been playing better than their record indicates and experience tells us that there's a bit of a universal course correction close at hand. By most accounts they dominated play Tuesday night at home against Edmonton but fell in the skills competition. Sharks fans have their eyes on one thing and one thing only: The Pacific Division crown. That which Dallas current possesses.
From our SB Nation Friends "Fear The Fin":
For the Sharks though, the mere act of squeaking into the playoffs isn't good enough. This is true in the organizational sense, as the Sharks expect much more out of themselves than a late season push to the 8 seed. It is also true in the "giving yourself the best chance to win a Stanley Cup" sense as well, considering the unforgiving gauntlet of hell that awaits the 7/8 seeds in the West this season.
In every sense of the word avoiding a brutal first round series, another brutal second round series if they make it that far, and claiming home ice for their first round matchup is probably the only realistic way the Sharks manage to make their third straight Western Conference Finals appearance and compete for a Stanley Cup come this spring.
Greiss started against the Stars in early February and cruised through a relatively uneventful nigh, making 19 saves on 21 shots for the win. Niemi earned the other two victories, and should be expected in this one tonight.
The Sharks finish March with 14 games in 24 days, which will make up those two games in hand they have on most of the competition in the West, including three back-to-back sets on the road. They face the Stars three times, the Coyotes three times, and the Kings three times. The Pacific Division title is there for their taking, but they have a hard road ahead. Just like Dallas.