The Dallas Stars have not lost in regulation at home to Edmonton since 2006 (10-0-1), and will likely welcome netminder Kari Lehtonen back to the ice tonight as they seek to complete a season sweep of the Oilers tonight at American Airlines Center.
The reunion couldn't come at a better time, as defensive issues and backup netminding have seen the Stars allow an astounding 28 goals in their last seven outings (4 GA/G), all but 13 minutes of which were played without the big Finn between the pipes.
On the other side of the ice the Stars will hope to continue a franchise record 11-game streak in which they have scored at least three goals, but will attempt to do so after trading away (at the time) the team's leading scorer in Michael Ryder. The return on that deal, Erik Cole, is scheduled to make his Dallas debut tonight.
For Edmonton Taylor Hall, arguably the best player on the ice in each of these teams' last two meetings, should return to action tonight after serving a two-game suspension.
"Although this play happens quickly Hall is in control of himself, and in control of this hit," Brendan Shanahan said in the video explanation after the incident against the Wild. "He makes the decision to step up and deliver a low check on a player who is not engaged with him whatsoever."
If you're not coming on down, this one starts at 7:30pm CST on Fox Sports Southwest.
Brenden Morrow, Jamie Benn and Jaromir Jagr have been planted on the team's top line for weeks now, so that seems unlikely to change on short notice, while Derek Roy has centered Antoine Roussel and Loui Eriksson to great effect. Michael Ryder was playing third line minutes (technically) along side Cody Eakin.
So where do they put Cole, and where can they afford to alter chemistry on a team that's scored three or more goals in 11 straight games?
"I've got some ideas and I am going to sit down and think about it," Gulutzan said Wednesday. "I would guess the right side."
So we'll wait, like everyone else, to find out. Moving Eriksson back to the right side seems to have steadied his game, so could it be that Cole slots in beside Eakin? Intrigue is everywhere.
Projected lineup, sans any concrete info on Cole, and VERY subject to change:
(Fraser in there somewhere?)
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the Jamie Benn line. Benn has taken a -3 in consecutive games. Goals happen when that line has been on the ice lately. For both teams.
Edmonton enters on an impressive two-game point streak, even though they've lost three of their last four overall. A shootout win against the Phoenix Coyotes and an impressive stab at the Blackhawks, losing 3-2 in overtime Monday, shows they can compete against the top teams in the West, and their .500 points percentage means they're nipping at the Stars' heels in the Western Conference standings.
Meanwhile, turmoil continues for veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney, who has been fighting to get back into the lineup as the Oil seemingly transition to younger players...
Kreuger refused to say whether Whitney, who has sat for five of the last seven games, would be back on the blue-line Thursday to face the Dallas Stars. He said that decision would come when Oilers assistant coach Steve Smith, who looks after the blue-liners, returns from a few days in Chicago visiting his family.
Whitney said he hadn't been told whether he was in or out; he skated with Corey Potter on Wednesday while Mark Fistric, the former Dallas defenseman, and Theo Peckham formed a pairing. For what it's worth, Whitney did not have a nameplate over his stall in the locker room Wednesday, but neither did Peckham nor injured captain Shawn Horcoff. [Edmonton Journal]
Take that for what you will. The Stars have seen the Oilers with and without key personnel, and have bested them twice, outscoring the Oil in Edmonton by a score of 7-3 overall. They can assert some real dominance over them tonight with a win, taking an important sweep of a season series in a shortened season.
One pro scout says if the Oilers don't play him, they'll never be able to sell him...
"It's the old story," said one pro scout, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "If you have a car you want to sell, do you clean it up, wax it and make it look as good as it can be? Or do you just park the car on the street and hope somebody wants it?" [Edmonton Journal]
Nikolai Khabibulin has flown home with a groin issue, so there's little doubt that Devan Dubnyk will once against start against Dallas. Dubnyk has played the Stars twice already, recording save percentages under .900 each time, and has surrendered six of the seven goals to Dallas at even-strength.
The Stars have killed eight of Edmonton's nine power plays thus far this season (88.8%) but the Oilers remain hot on the job, converting 5 of their last 17 (29.4%), so discipline at home will be key.
Fistric-Peckham ... (Whitney?)