Two weeks ago the Dallas Stars traveled to Detroit to take on a Red Wings team that was red hot and had lost just twice in nine games; they were also unbeaten in regulation on home ice. Behind a near masterful performance by Alex Auld, the Stars walked away with a surprising 3-1 victory and looked to be on the way out of an early season bout with consistency.
Of course, the Stars flopped the following night against Columbus and all of the good feelings from the big win at Joe Louis Arena were gone.
Since that win, the Stars have gone 3-2-1 and are still fighting the consistency that has plagued them all season long. After perhaps the worst performance of the 2009 season against Phoenix the Stars were able to somehow survive against Tampa Bay, who scored twice in the final minutes before the Stars pulled out a win in overtime. The Stars now sit in 7th place in a tight race in the Western conference, and are just a few losses in a row away from dropping to the bottom of the standings.
Tonight, the Stars look to regain the good form they showed against the Wings on November 18 and will try to do it once more at Joe Louis Arena.
The Dallas Stars:
There are many issues the Stars have had to try and overcome this season, but none have been more frustrating that the problems in the faceoff circle. Yet it hasn't just been an issue this season:
They are 27th in the National Hockey League, winning 47.3 percent of their draws.
But it shouldn't be a surprise.
This team finished 26th last season at 47.8 percent. All the Stars' centers are left-handed, and most are under 48 percent for their careers.
What's more, their best faceoff player, Steve Ott, has been hurt for the better part of the last two seasons and hasn't really been able to take faceoffs.
"It's a tough situation, and we need to be better," said center Mike Modano, who has the best faceoff winning percentage among regulars at 51.8 percent. "But we work on it all of the time, and we usually end up about the same. It's definitely frustrating."
Faceoffs can come down to your center cleanly beating the opposition center, but more often than not, the wingers also work into the play. The Stars say they need strong work from the wingers and defensemen, because winning draws cleanly doesn't seem as easy as it once did.
"I'm usually tied up, so I definitely need the help," said Mike Ribeiro, who has taken more faceoffs than any Stars player at 442 and has just a 43.9 winning percentage. "I think we see that more too if we're not on our natural side."
Stars fans for so long were spoiled by Joe Nieuwendyk and Guy Carbonneau; just like with every aspect of this current team it's still tough to deal with how different things have become.
With Brian Sutherby healthy and ready to go, and Fabian Brunnstrom back in the lineup, there's a chance that tonight's lines will look a bit different as the Stars try and stay fresh. Depending on if Crawford sticks with Tom Wandell on the third line, we could see this:
Neal - Richards - Eriksson
Morrow - Ribeiro - Benn
Ott - Wandell - Lehtinen
Sutherby - Modano - Brunnstrom
Knowing Crawford, the lines tonight will most likely look nothing like this. So that's just a guess.
The Detroit Red Wings
Since losing to Dallas on November 18, the Red Wings are 2-3-1 and both wins have come in the shootout. They've been shutout twice and have scored just nine goals in the past six games. They are coming off a big win over the Blues in which they finally found their scoring touch again, according to Winging It In Motown:
Oh, my beloved Detroit Red Wings. Why must you give me chest pains?
It certainly wasn't easy, but the Wings won their first game in their last four tries, defeating the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday night by a score of 4-3. Coming into the game, Detroit was on their worst stretch of the season: shutout in their last two outings (both at home), and going 1-4-1 in their last six.
It was 2-0 Blues after the first period, as the hometown team received goals from David Backes and Roman Polak. Something Mike Babcock said in the intermission must have worked, because the boys came out a little stronger in the second, netting their first goal in nearly nine periods at 2:35 of the second. The powerplay goal was scored by Tomas Holmstrom of an absolutely gorgeous feed from Henrik Zetterberg. All is right with the world.
No matter what issues the Wings have had, they still have Zetterberg and they still have Datsyuk. They are always a scoring threat.