What a difference a week makes as Phoenix now, somehow, sits in the drivers' seat, and it is the Stars that must chase under enormous pressure and a really road-heavy schedule.
It's a tall order for a team that has struggled in every March of the last four seasons. Sunday night's 7-2 public flogging in Winnipeg the other night does not instill confidence in the wake of Phoenix's resurgence.
"Pretty embarrassing," said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. "Turned pucks over, they buried them on us. They got to their speed game better than we could...just got away from us."
"I didn't think we were committed enough," Lindy Ruff said of Sunday night's game. "We didn't win enough wall battles and we made some mistakes that we haven't been making. First and foremost, it falls on my shoulders to help them understand what went wrong."
Cristopher Nihlstorp was sent back to Texas yesterday, indicating that Kari Lehtonen will, at the very least, dress for this one tonight, if not start it. Information out of morning skate is scarce today as it appears Mike Heika is not on this particular trip for the DMN.
Shawn Horcoff likely remains out. Vern Fiddler had a maintenance day yesterday.
There looks to be some good news and some bad news when analyzing the Pens' recent exploits. The good news: They may not be firing on all cylinders after losing two in a row. The bad news: The team to which they just lost two in a row (Philadelphia) is who the Stars play after this one. Again, on the road.
Pittsburgh was out-shot by the Flyers 75-48 in back-to-back contests over the weekend with the latter out-scoring Crosby's bunch 8-3 in the set, aided by three power play goals.
Special teams are supposed to be Pittsburgh's bit.
The Pens have the league's best power play (I wonder why) at 24.3% on the season and the league's third-best penalty kill at 86.1%. Their top-ten offense carries them to a league best .886 win percentage when they score first.
So score first. It is border-line necessary, or it's almost always goodnight, the numbers say.
Former Dallas Star James Neal has been out with a concussion but is very probable to return tonight, joining Jussi Jokinen as a very familiar face. There's also Matt Niskanen, whose rehabilitation and transformation appears nearly complete as he plays a lot of important minutes for the Pens these days.
Chris Kunitz has been out, but practiced this week and is also a candidate to return.
A Penguins team that is getting healthy. A Penguins team coming off back-to-back losses. Either way, the Stars are going get Pittsburgh's very best shot tonight, and after a bitterly disappointing loss against lesser competition in Winnipeg Sunday night, they'll want to brace for an adventurous first 20 minutes.
From Stars PR: "Stars defenseman ALEX GOLIGOSKI recorded his 27th assist of the season on Sunday night in Winnipeg. The 28-year-old paces all club defenseman and ranks third among all Stars skaters with 32 points (5-27=32) this season. with the assist, GOLIGOSKI has now registered points in six of his last seven games (3-4=7), and has eight points (3-5=8) in his last nine games."