Gameday Preview: Chicago Blackhawks @ Dallas Stars (7:00pm CDT)

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Kari Lehtonen was great Thursday against Anaheim. He'll have to be even better to take a point out of this one as the league-leading Hawks come to town.

Losers of three straight, the Dallas Stars need a win to right their ship, but face the toughest competition in the league Saturday night as the domineering Chicago Blackhawks re-visit the American Airlines Center.

After a frustrating 2-1 shootout loss to the Ducks on Thursday night the Stars have managed just two goals in their last nine periods of hockey, owing in part to the continued absence of forward Jamie Benn, who continues to miss time with a wrist injury. His return tonight is possible, but doubtful.

"We'll see tomorrow," Gulutzan told media Friday of Jamie Benn. "He didn't shoot any pucks today, so we'll see how he is at the morning skate and we'll make a decision after that."

When last these teams met the Blackhawks peppered Kari Lehtonen's net with 41 shots, thanks in part to seven power plays spanning nearly 12 minutes of game time that accounted for all three Chicago goals and ultimately the win.

From Stars PR: "The Dallas Stars come into Saturday's tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks having earned points in four of the last five games against them at American Airlines Center (3-1-1). Since the building opened in 2001, the Stars boast a 14-5-2 record over Chicago at the AAC."

Joe Nieuwendyk will be the 20th anniversary team honoree. The puck drops just after 7:00pm CDT on Fox Sports Southwest proper.

The Stars:

Glen Gulutzan leaned on his best players heavily Thursday night against Anaheim, and if not for some pretty unlucky breaks it would have worked.

Brenden Dillon and Stephane Robidas led the team in ice team with about 26 minutes, four more than they typically see.

Derek Roy's line with Eriksson and Whitney also increased their average ice times significantly, all seeing between 24 and 25 minutes. That line saw about 19 even strength minutes, or about 36% of all even strength time in the contest.

With the Smith/Eakin/Jagr trio eating up the next greatest totals, little was left to divide between "third" and "fourth" lines, and Morrow, Roussel, Fiddler, Nystrom and Garbutt all saw about 10 minutes or less.

Brenden Morrow was not 100% with his groin tweak on Thursday night, and after being listed as doubtful at morning skate came back in the afternoon feeling like he could play, so he logged 10:45 against the Ducks. He's probable tonight.

There was mention of Ryan Garbutt hurting his hand, but Mike Heika thinks he's probable. Tomas Vincour could be the healthy scratch again in that case.

Lines Thursday were these:

Whitney-Roy-Eriksson
Smith-Eakin-Jagr
Morrow-Roussel-Cole
Nystrom-Fiddler-Garbutt

Robidas-Dillon
Daley-Goligoski
Larsen-Benn

Philip Larsen was solid in his return, though saw only 12:55, and no special teams time. He'll likely be back in, though Oleksiak could replace him or Jordie Benn at any time.

Kari Lehtonen should be in net.

The Blackhawks:

Chicago has been the subject of well earned praise and universal recognition for their incredible 21-0-3 run to start the season, but as they enter tonight you could (perhaps foolishly) question their play of late if you were so inclined.

It's not recommended. Their average goal differential on the season is over plus-one per game, incredible.

They've won only two 60 minutes games in the last three weeks, and 8 of their 22 wins have come in overtime or a shootout, including their most recent in Columbus where they scored only a single goal, though but 40 shots on net. They've gone past 60 minutes 11 times in 27 games already this season.

Before beating Columbus Thursday night they had allowed 21 goals in their previous six games, including back-to-back six-goal games by Edmonton and Colorado.

The Blackhawks beat the Stars with the power play in their first visit to Dallas, but have gone just 3 of 34 on the road since (8.8%), and finding a way to keep it bottled up will be key for the suddenly offensively challenged Stars.

Patrick Sharp (shoulder) is out for this one.

Expected lineup:

Saad-Toews-Hossa
Hayes-Bolland-Kane
Bickell-Shaw-Stalberg
Bollig-Kruger-Frolik

Keith-Seabrook
Oduya-Hjalmarsson
Leddy-Brookbank

Crawford
Emery

The Chicago Tribune says the Blackhawks are getting tremendous defensive help from their forwards in this excellent stretch:

"The forwards have been doing an unbelievable job of backchecking and tipping pucks from behind, getting pressure; our goaltending has been unbelievable; and our 'D' are doing a good job of making plays out of our zone to give the forwards the puck. And we're doing a good job of swinging in, having good sticks (and) blocking shots. Everything is working really well right now."

It's a significant area of improvement after the Hawks finished 22nd in the NHL last season with an average of 2.82 goals allowed. Seabrook believes this defensive group is as good as he has been a part of since joining the Hawks during the 2005-06 season.

"If you look any night, the six guys they put in the lineup, we're all comfortable and confident that we're all going to get the job done," Seabrook said. "Right now, we have seven healthy guys that are playing really well, and it makes the coach's job a little tougher. It's been great." [Chicago Tribune]

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