The Dallas Stars dispatched the Penguins of Pittsburgh Saturday night with facility in front of their first home sellout crowd of the season. The win keeps the Stars hanging on to thin playoff hopes as the Olympic break rapidly approaches, and every point is huge.
"Yeah, I think this is up there," Kari Lehtonen said of the win being possibly their best of the season. "Their team is really good and we were able to play a lot better than them and work harder and dominate the power play and penalty kill [...] Just overall great effort."
The Stars dogged the Penguins relentlessly in all three zones, forcing passing errors and bad decisions. Dallas has seen their last three opponents either call timeouts or make a goaltender change to try to stem their suddenly relentless tide.
It's a 14-1 goal margin in Dallas' favor over those three contests, but the desperation must remain as omnipresent as ever as they're no nearer the Minnesota Wild or the Vancouver Canucks than they were a week ago.
They'll continue to take it one game at a time, and tonight it's the Colorado Avalanche.
When last the Avs and Stars met for a December home-and-home series Jamie Benn described the Stars performance in a 6-2 loss on night one as "pretty much laying an egg." Colorado blasted the Stars with four second-period goals in the rout, putting 48 shots on net in the process.
In the second half the Stars got the better of them thanks to a Colton Sceviour breakaway goal in the third period to give Dallas a 3-2 win.
The Avs recently got Alex Tanguay back from a lengthy injury and he slots right in on their top line, sliding their considerable scoring depth down the lineup for a balanced attack you just can't get away from.
In their last visit, with talk of team Canada scouts in the building to observe Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Matt Duchene, it was the latter who was the absolute alpha male. Duchene's line was countered with Cody Eakin, Roussel and Garbutt to little effect while the Seguin line could not break through on Stastny and Landeskog.
Those groupings on both teams remain largely intact, so it will be interesting to see how Lindy Ruff chooses to attack it again.
Then again, thinking about it too much is what the Stars say got them in a bad way during their huge January slide.
"When we are sitting back, thinking too much about plays and not playing to our strengths, that's when we are not on our game," Brenden Dillon told dallastars.com. "We have to stay away from that. We have to stick to the plan. We're a fast team and we move the puck. That's when we are on our game."
Those earlier December matchups with the Avalanche featured Cameron Gaunce and Kevin Connauton, where tonight they'll see Aaron Rome and the returned Trevor Daley, so there's a bit of a different wrinkle there as well.
While these teams, on paper, don't look similarly matched in scoring depth they do put them in at almost exactly the same clip (2.86 for COL, 2.85 for DAL). It's on the defensive end that the Avalanche have made their surprising run with a much better mark (2.57 GA/G) than Dallas' (2.86 GA/G), though they're in a bit of a rough patch currently having given up 16 goals over their last four outings. So they'll be especially mindful of trying to keep a cleaner sheet in their own end tonight.
Jamie Benn and Alex Chiasson missed Sunday's practice but are expected to play tonight, and with no extra forwards up from Cedar Park at the moment we'd expect the lines to remain the same:
Dallas has leaned hard on Kari Lehtonen as of late, and finally get an extra off day between this one and Thursday's meeting with the Devils. Is this a good spot to get Kari three days rest and Dan Ellis some action, or does the divisional nature of the game and the desire to keep rolling with the hot hand supersede that?
The guess is you stay with the guy that's allowed a single goal against in their last 180 minutes of hockey.
Puck drop is at 7:30pm CST on Fox Sports Southwest.
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