After collecting four of a possible six points on a three-game road trip, the Dallas Stars will look to make it three wins in a row tonight on a brief home-stint against the Anaheim Ducks.
Dallas defeated a short-handed Edmonton Oiler team at Rexall Place 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday thanks to goals from Jamie Benn, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr, and will now try to build on a 2-1-1 home record.
Anaheim, meanwhile, has been known as something of a slow starter in recent seasons, but it took just 9 games to get 7 wins this year, compared to 24, 15 and 20 in their last three campaigns. To say they're ahead of where they usually are, and with the same core of players, is an understatement. The difference could be their new head coach, Bruce Boudreau, who's now tasked with managing (a perhaps) unexpected level of success.
"I don't think they're going to get caught up in it," Coach Boudreau told the OC Register. "About the only way to temper it is by losing. And I don't want to do that. We don't mind flying under the radar and just being a good, solid team. We'd certainly love to win every game we play. It just so happens that attention comes with it."
Paying attention is one thing. Shutting down a team averaging well over four goals-per-game on the road this season while allowing less than two per-contest away from Honda Center is another task entirely.
Puck drop is at 7:30pm CST on FSSW, and NHL Network outside of the Stars' coverage area. Tonight's contest is the only game on the NHL's Friday schedule.
Since getting shutout by Phoenix the Stars have found three goal per night with their new line combinations, but Glen Gulutzan has yet to experience the luxury last change with both Derek Roy and Jamie Benn in the lineup. The chess match will be interesting tonight, but with the Ducks so balanced on offense, the Eakin and Fiddler lines will be forced to do some important work regardless.
Staying out of the box will again be key. The Stars are only surrendering 2.46 goals/game on the year, and have allowed only 18 even-strength tallies in 11 games. It's the power play goals against and mid-game penalty troubles that derail what has been solid 5-on-5 play for the most part.
Relative health is allowing the Stars to build a little continuity in their lineup, and we'll expect once again to see something resembling these combinations...
The talk this week has been of Alex Goligoski's healthy scratch in Edmonton on Wednesday. Philip Larsen had a good game in his stead, but come back out to give Dallas' highest paid blue-liner a spot, while Aaron Rome and Jamie Oleksiak also seem like candidates to come out if indeed Goligoski is to get back in. Check back with us after morning skate for what exactly d-pairings could look like.
If size is a factor, and it usually is against some large Ducks forwards, then it could come down to Larsen or Goligoski yet again.
From Stars PR: "The Dallas Stars are 37-10-4 all-time against the Ducks at home for a .765 point percentage, the club's highest against any Western Conference team. The Stars have won six of their last seven contests overall against Anaheim, and have not lost to the Ducks at home in regulation since Oct. 26, 2010."
Kari Lehtonen will be in net.
In five of their nine outings the Ducks have held their opponents to two goals or less, and an emerging story is becoming that of their goaltending. Jonas Hiller entered the season as the number-one netminder, but rookie Viktor Fasth, a 30 year-old undrafted Swedish free agent a la Cristopher Nilstorp, is hot on his heels with a GAA under one through four games, four wins and a shutout.
Which will play tonight for certain is unknown, but lean toward expecting Boudreau to ride the hot hand in Fasth.
Meanwhile on their top defensive pairing, Sheldon Souray and Francois Beauchemin have combined for six goals and a +13 rating in nine games, so the Ducks aren't just getting balanced scoring from their forward lines - A significant contribution is coming from the back end as well.
Anaheim is cooking on special teams, converting 5 of their last 15 on the power play (.333), and have done a traditionally un-Anaheim like job of staying out of the box, surrendering three or less power-plays against in five of their first nine games.
Jen from SB Nation blog Anaheim Calling tells us the lineup will be something like this...
That third line of Cogliano, Koivu and Winnik have absolutely poured on points (23 among the three) in the early going, making Anaheim a danger to score no matter who's on the ice. Glen Gulutzan and Paul Jerrard should have their hands full trying to play a careful game and limit chances against.
Anaheim does not have a regulation loss on the road yet this season (3-0-1).