Game Preview: New Jersey Devils @ Dallas Stars (7:30pm CST)

Bruce Bennett

The Stars look to get back on track as they welcome Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder back to the AAC Thursday.

With the Phoenix Coyotes in sight and the Vancouver Canucks slipping to 8th place behind the Minnesota Wild the Western Conference's playoff race is retaining some of its intrigue as the Dallas Stars approach the Olympic break.

The Stars sit seven points back, however, after dominating the majority of play against the Colorado Avalanche Monday night but not pulling a single point as Semyon Varlamov was masterful in holding them at three in the third period. A lucky bounce off of Sergei Gonchar's skate was the difference maker.

"Then they have a puck that just goes off our skate and into the net for the game-winning goal," Tyler Seguin explained. "That's hard but if you put in the effort we did and dominate most stats you should win games."

So Dallas will go to work again and look for that same effort, with a better start this time after falling behind 2-0 to the Avs, and ultimately hope the math will take over resulting in a win to cap off this five-game home stand.

While the previous edition of Stars hockey on Monday was of the thrilling variety with bountiful chances this one could be anything but. New Jersey allows the fewest shots in the league. And takes the fewest shots in the league. In a statement released Wednesday the neutral zone said it has been looking forward to this.

Meanwhile at Stars practice Jamie Benn took his second maintenance day of the week Wednesday, but is expected to play this evening. His wrist was seen wrapped on the bench in recent tilts, but his wrist shot has suffered no ill effects, as the evidence shows. If something is ailing the Stars captain, either upper or lower body, there's been no word of it.

So expect lines to stay the same:

Benn-Seguin-Nichushkin
Roussel-Eaking-Garbutt
Whitney-Fiddler-Cole
Peverley-Horcoff-Chiasson

There's been no talk of Dan Ellis starting, but it has been a while. We'll assume Kari Lehtonen will be between the pipes until we hear otherwise.

With the Devils, it's hard to know what you're going to get. They looked great in their Stadium Series first period meeting with the Rangers in jumping out to a 2-0 lead, then proceeded to lose the game 7-3. They defeated the St. Louis Blues 7-1. Then turned around and lost to them 0-3 Tuesday night.

They are designed to do one thing first and foremost, as the Stars found out on January 9th: Hold the opposition to little or no offense. When they do this, 9 times in their last 16 games for example, which is impressive, they win. They're 7-0-2 in that time frame.

Otherwise they've gone 0-5-2 in that stretch. Goal: Score more than once and your chances of taking points away look good. They're averaging 1.75 goals per game in their last eight on the road.

New Jersey is 2-7-3 on the road in the Western Conference this season, though boast that they're one of just four teams this season to escape the Honda Center with the full two.

They have the league's seventh best road power play but are very mediocre on the kill away from home (15th, 81.7%), so perhaps the Stars power play streak can continue- Though getting on the job could prove difficult again. The Stars forced New Jersey into only two infractions in their last meeting.

The American Airlines Center was an inviting environment for the point-producing stylings of Jaromir Jagr last season. Stars fans will hope it's not so cozy this evening.

Their lineup:

Josefson-Zajac-Jagr
Zubrus-Elias-Brunner
Clowe-Henrique-Ryder
Carter-Gionta-Bernier

Fayne-Greene
Salvador-Zidlicky
Volchenkov-Gelinas

The Devils' strong positional play and shot blocking frustrated the Stars in their first meeting. Ultimately tonight will come down to trying to beat that scheme with a strong transition game, and taking a lead. They know what kind of game NJ is content to play when grabbing one of their own.

Though, Dallas has 16 wins and 12 losses when scoring first the season- Among the league's worst percentages. (25th in the league, .571) "The whole 60 minutes," as they say, is the cure for that ill.

The puck drops on this one tonight at 7:30pm CST on Fox Sports Southwest.

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