Gameday Preview: Dallas Stars Host Phoenix Coyotes (7:00pm CST)

Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

287 days after the the Stars' last presentation at the American Airlines Center, the journey begins anew tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes.

The defending Pacific Division Champion Phoenix Coyotes come calling tonight as the Dallas Stars open their abbreviated 2013 NHL schedule at home to an expected sold-out American Airlines Center.

Story lines abound as Jamie Benn's absence casts a shadow over the proceedings - Will Brenden Morrow be more of a contributor after correcting back/neck issues that plagued him last season? Will the Stars now smaller and more inexperienced blue-line hold when mistakes are ill-afforded in a 48 game sprint? Will Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney continue their high level of play at advancing ages? Can Derek Roy regain his point-per-game form after major quad and shoulder surgeries?

All will be revealed in the next 99 days as a scramble to the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs commences, but first the Stars must deal with Mike Smith and the Coyotes.

Going back to the 2010-2011 season, six of the Stars' last nine meetings with the Coyotes have gone to overtime or the shootout. Dallas is 4-2-3 in those contests. Dave Tippett has led the Coyotes to 47 shootouts in three years - About 20% of games with the club.

The Stars were 3-2-1 against Phoenix last year, including two shootout wins at American Airlines Center. The puck drops at about 7:07pm CST tonight on Fox Sports Southwest.

The Stars:

As discussed on Friday the Stars' lines are expected to look like this, sans Jamie Benn:

Eriksson-Roy-Jagr
Whitney-Wandell-Ryder
Morrow-Fiddler-Nystrom
Garbutt-Eakin-Smith

Antoine Roussel and Colton Sceviour should be healthy scratches.

The Coyotes don't present troublesome matchup problems as much as they play a consistently strong team game. Glen Gulutzan's challenge will be to find risk-free (or close to it) offense against a team that's traditionally content to wait for the other to make a mistake. Special teams should play a big role, but the two had the league's worst power play percentages last season at 13.6% (PHX) and 13.5% (DAL).

Defensive pairings will likely start as these:

Goligoski-Robidas
J. Benn-Daley
Dillon-Larsen

Kari Lehtonen, who traditionally likes to see a lot of pre-season action, will try to hit the ground running in the Dallas net.

The Coyotes:

The Phoenix Coyotes lost Ilya Bryzgalov in the off-season of 2011 and some hailed it as the beginning of the end for Dave Tippett's troops. So they went out and won the Pacific Division with Mike Smith anyway on the strength of 42 wins (Dallas tallied the same number) and 13 overtime/shootout defeats. The Kings bested them handily in their first ever Western Conference Championship series.

In the off-season the Coyotes lost a 77 point scorer in Ray Whitney to the Stars but re-gained familiar face Zbynek Michalek to anchor an already solid defensive unit. They brought on Steve Sullivan from Pittsburgh as well. Sullivan had a bit of a sub-par year for the Penguins but should be back in his comfort zone on a defensive team like Phoenix after having spent six years previously with Barry Trotz in Nashville.

Right wings Nick Johnson and David Moss were also added via free agency.

Sullivan, Michalek, Vermette, Hanzal - The Coyotes know what they do well and they acquire and grow players to do it. They'll keep scores low again in 2013 and it will give them a good chance to challenge the Kings in the division.

Five for Howling Tells us they expect Tippett's lines to look (someting) like this, though nothing appears settled:

Sullivan-Hanzal-Vrbata
Boedkker-Lombardi-Doan
Korpikoski-Vermette-Moss
Bissonnette-Gordon-Chipchura

That's assuming that Matthew Lombardi, who has not practiced with the team, takes care of his visa issue and joins them in Dallas. Lombardi had been with the Coyotes previously in 2009-2010 and scored 19 goals for them.

Defensive pairings:

Ekman-Larsson - Michalek
Yandle - Morris
Klesla - Schlemko

Mike Smith will be in net, backed up by the 33 year-old Jason LaBarbera.

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