After dropping consecutive 4-3 contests to the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues respectively, the Dallas Stars enter Monday night hoping to get back in the win column as they visit an improved Columbus Blue Jackets team at Nationwide Arena.
Though 1-3-1 on the young season, the Blue Jackets have displayed impressive amounts of battle in defeating the Predators, taking the Red Wings to overtime, and most impressively on Saturday night, out-shooting and coming within one goal of the same Chicago team that grossly out-possessed Dallas last Thursday night.
The Jackets are hungry and seemed poised to deliver a first win of the year on home ice. A hobbled Stars' team currently surrendering the most shots-on-goal against per game stands in their way.
For Dallas Jamie Benn is expected to make his season debut with the Stars tonight after a contract negotiation caused him to miss the first five games, but bureaucracy abounds as the Stars nervously wait for a completion of paperwork in Vermont, reportedly, to ensure his eligibility tonight. Benn could not apply to the U.S. government for a work visa until having a signed contract on Friday, thus the uncertainty over the weekend leaking into tonight.
If the paperwork is processed by 5:00pm EST then he'll be in. If not then expect Tom Wandell to remain in the top six.
Either way, tonight's contest drops at 6:00pm CST on Fox Sports Southwest and Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket.
The focus of Stars fans everywhere will be the Jamie Benn line and what chemistry develops there. Though Benn played a month in Germany for the Hamburg Freezers during the lockout, his last game action was well over six weeks ago. He's been working out with a junior team in Victoria since but his conditioning level and game readiness is unknown at this point.
He is expected to be skating with Ray Whitney and Michael Ryder when the injury situations clear altogether, but his deployment for this one could be a bit different. Cody Eakin has played well with Ray Whitney and Michael Ryder, so it might make some sense to keep that line together if Roy is out as expected - Putting Benn potentially with Loui Eriksson and Jaromir Jagr for tonight.
An item of perhaps equal intrigue is on tap for the bottom-six of Glen Gulutzan's bunch as Brenden Morrow played on the fourth line Saturday night against the Blues and was on-ice for three St. Louis goals through two periods in very limited minutes. Is that, in combination with Benn's return, enough to send Morrow back with Fiddler as Wandell returns to Garbutt and Reilly Smith?
Tomas Vincour scored a goal in his season debut but could be the odd-man out in this one, but little information is known after a light skate in Frisco on Sunday before the flight to Columbus.
Expected Stars' lineup:
Injuries: Jaromir Jagr is listed as probably Derek Roy is questionable, but maybe doubtful. Kari Lehtonen's "tweak" is evidently minor enough for him to play, while Cristoper Nilstorp has been placed on IR.
Kari Lehtonen will start in the Dallas net.
The Blue Jackets:
It's easy to look at Columbus and say "3 points in 5 games, good for 26th in the league - The Stars should beat these guys," but that would be lazy and dishonest. The Jackets have put up solid efforts against quality Central Division teams like the Red Wings and the Blackhawks, and appear on the cusp of seeing their efforts pay off.
To look forward to Detroit on Tuesday night past this one would be quite the mistake.
Columbus is missing Rick Nash, newly departed for the New York Rangers, but come into the game easily besting the Stars in shots-per-game and penalty kill percentage, which has been excellent at 90.0% on the season. They also boast, coincidentally, the exact same sub-par faceoff percentage as Dallas at 46.6%.
Watch out for defenseman Fedor Tyutin, who leads them with four points already in just five games, and they're getting a very solid .913 save percentage from Bobrovsky in net, who should start this one.
Their expected lineup...
Injuries: Cam Atkinson - lower-body injury.