Gameday Preview: Dallas Stars @ Nashville Predators (7:00pm CDT)

Frederick Breedon

Three points out of eighth place now, the Dallas Stars simply must take advantage of a Nashville team down on its luck and possibly out of the playoff race altogether.

After winning one "game in hand" against the Red Wings earlier in the week only to see Detroit lose the right way (in OT/SO) Thursday night, the Stars have an opportunity to do it again and pull within a point of that elusive last playoff spot in the West.

The Nashville Predators stand in the way, and they've been a tough nut to crack for Glen Gulutzan's bunch this season.

"We played soft, we didn't go to the hard areas to score, we didn't force it down their throat," Gulutzan said when last these teams met in March - a 4-0 trouncing by NSH at American Airlines Center. "We just thought, `Maybe we'll get some fluff or get a bounce, maybe one will come to me at the back door, whatever."

With that in mind, the Stars will try for a third time this season to contain a Predators team that people say can't score goals. Stars fans (and players) would beg to differ.

Nashville entered the season's first meeting on a scoring drought that stretched beyond 130 minutes of game action. They scored five on the Stars. They entered the next meeting having scored just a single goal in four of their five previous contests. They scored four that night.

Again tonight, they've scored four goals total in their last four games, including being shutout twice.

It's up the Stars how to respond a third time. Will it be the old proverbial "charm", or will they be the cure for what ails the league's second worst offense once again?

Puck drop is just after 7:00pm tonight on Fox Sports Southwest PLUS.

The Stars:

With the pressure off (to a certain extent) the Stars went out and had fun in taking down division foes Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles. Now back in the thick of things and facing an opponent they should probably handle if they're really a playoff team, how will they respond?

Dallas has just 3 wins against Central Division opponents in 13 tries this season. They've lost three out of four road games that start a back-to-back set this year, and the success (or lack thereof) of their backup net-minding has been well documented.

This iteration of the team, newly transformed by the trade deadline moves, must leave all of that behind. With San Jose at home Saturday and a trip to Chicago looming, they must get points tonight.

They'll probably have to do it without number-one net-minder Kari Lehtonen.

"He's gonna travel with us and he's still day-to-day," Gulutzan said after practice Thursday. "It's his groin and it's day to day. He could be a game player tomorrow but he's still day to day. So we'll see how that plays out."

Line combos are likely to stay the same as in their win over the Kings at home on Tuesday:

Whitney-Benn-Chiasson
Fraser-Eakin-Eriksson
Nystrom-Fiddler-Cole
Roussel-Wandell-Garbutt

Daley-Robidas
Dillon-Goligoski
Rome-Larsen
Benn

Bachman
Nilstorp

The Predators:

The Blues took care of the Predators with all of the methodical excitement you'd expect from a Ken Hitchcock coached team Tuesday night, holding them to just 15 shots on goal and nothing to show in a 1-0 shutout.

"When you can't sustain any offensive zone time, it's tough to get any shots," captain Shea Weber told media after. "Everything we got was from the outside, and we really didn't have many quality scoring chances."

Their woes were compounded Thursday morning when it was revealed by the team that they'd be shutting down three key forwards for the season.

That has Nashville fans waiving the white flag, but it doesn't mean Nashville won't compete hard tonight against a team they've owned recently. Of the nine goal scorers against the Stars on the Predators roster (Smith, Josi, Josi, Hornqvist, Fisher, Spaling, Weber, Clune and Bourque) only Bourque is missing tonight.

Here is a familiar story from Nashville blog "Predlines" (I get it...)

The team's personality has shifted all over the place this season. First they're great defensively but can't score. Then they can score at will but have trouble stopping even the league's worst offenses. The last half of the season has seen them find a way to do both multiple times in a single week. It's been nearly impossible to tell which team is going to show up on any given night, and not just in the tenor of their play. The injuries the Preds have suffered this season have been staggering in their frequency and their length - and I'm just talking about Paul Gaustad here. Eight players who started the year in the minors are currently on the NHL roster for Nashville, enough that it's sometimes hard to process who's on the ice because of the lack of familiarity. [Predlines]

Missing players. Missing identity. Gobs of players who started the year in the minors. Sounds familiar.
Possible line combinations:

Kostitsyn-Spaling-Halischuk
Beck-Legwand-Hornqvist
Clune-Watson-Smith
Bang-Muller-Butler

Josi-Weber
Bartley-Klein
Gill-Blum

Rinne
Rinne
Someone else.

Trotz has indicated that Rinne would likely start every game moving forward.

"Right now we don't have any wiggle room, so you have to go with your best," Trotz told the Tennessean. "We had a plan way back when we started that (last Saturday's) game would be Mason, but things change," Trotz said. "Right now we have to go with our best, and Peks is our best."

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