Sergei Gonchar Set to Return as Dallas Stars Take on Resurgent New York Islanders

Bruce Bennett

Don't discount the Islanders, who are on a demonstrative upswing after wins against good teams.

Two regulation losses to Eastern Conference teams in which they allowed 11 total goals ended the Dallas Stars' five-game home stand in the most disappointing of fashions, but the compressed Olympic-friendly schedule offers renewal without delay as Lindy Ruff's bunch takes on the New York Islanders this evening out East.

The Stars jumped all over both the Red Wings and Canadiens early but were unable to fully take advantage of the opportunities they worked so hard to create.

Then the defensive issues set in.

There might be a silver lining on the blue line, however. Sergei Gonchar is set to return after a six-game absence due to a concussion suffered December 21st against the San Jose Sharks.

As if that wasn't enough there comes the news that Trevor Daley, sidelined with a high-ankle sprain on December 5th in Toronto, thought to be out by many until February, if not until after the Olympic break, is actually considered a possibility to return tonight.

Whether he plays tonight or not, that's very good news indeed for a group of youngsters who bent as far as they possibly could before perhaps breaking a little bit in their last 120 minutes.

"I think our defense kind of hit a wall, especially the pair we've really put pressure on,'' Ruff said of Goligoski Dillon Saturday night. "We've got to get our D healthy."

Even with Aaron Rome on the shelf for a third time, it appears as though the overall health is returning- How quickly the rust shakes off is another issue.

Meanwhile there are the Islanders. This should be easier, right? At 35 points the Islanders are second-to-last in the dreadful Eastern Conference and in sinking like a rock to that position actually went through a 10-game losing streak this year. Ten!

But things are never quite what they seem, are they? Certainly nothing ever really comes that easy.

The Islanders, in fact, are enjoying a 5-3-2 stretch in their last 10, including wins over Detroit, Minnesota, Boston and Chicago. That's pretty salty.

It's reason to have just as much caution as ever. Certainly Montreal and Detroit, perceieved mediocrity from the East, did not prove to be nearly as docile as hoped. The Islanders are a team that's actually beating high quality opponents entering this one. So we tread lightly...

Even during their ten-game losing streak the Islanders were better than the outcomes told. 37 shots against the Ducks. 39 on the Caps. 38 on the Flyers. 35 on the Penguins. They get their opportunities, and lately they've taken advantage with five against the Wild, five against the Bruins, including four power play goals, and five against the Rangers.

They can skate and they can score. They have Evgeni Nabokov, upon which praise has been heaped, as of late, and most dangerously of all- They have absolutely nothing to lose.

Talk will swirl around MacDonald, Thomas Vanek and Nabokov himself if their run of good fortune ends as the Olympic break approaches. They fight for a chance to stay together in light of their recent success, and Stars fans know that such runs before trade deadlines can be inspiring to a lowly-seeded team.

Keep an eye on John Tavares, who will be used straight up against the Seguin line all night long. He has 46 points already and is more than capable of orchestrating keep-away from the Stars' top trio. Secondary scoring or special teams success will be key, as it always is on the road.

The Isles, like the Stars, are missing a couple of defensemen in Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion, Star-killer extraordinaire) and Radek Martinek (back).

Faceoff is just after 6:00pm on Fox Sports Southwest.

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