Only six points separate the San Jose Sharks and the Dallas Stars. With the visiting team one win away from regaining a share of first place in the West, and the other fighting just to stay near 8th place, you would expect these two teams to be a little further apart, but that's life in the Western Conference these days.
These are two clubs that love to play in each others' building. The Sharks have won seven of their last eight games at American Airlines Center (yikes) and the Stars have already beaten San Jose twice at HP Pavilion this year, both shootout victories. The Sharks have been the only team in the NHL the Stars have been able to solve in the skills competition this season, losing their other seven.
Dallas enters the game tonight having won only twice in their previous seven games, but are coming off an entertaining, gritty effort against the Red Wings on Saturday. Early in the season, the AAC was, for whatever reason, a rather unfriendly place for the Dallas Stars. They struggled in their own building but collected points in their first seven road games. Nearly half way through the season, the tables have turned. The Stars are 5-0-2 in their last seven at home, but have struggled mightily on the road, winning only one of their last seven away games.
Tonight is yet another opportunity for this team to build momentum. 35 games in, the Stars have won back to back games only twice.
Follow the jump for more on tonight's matchup and injuries for both squads...
The Dallas Stars
Something we have talked endlessly about this year is the Stars inability to score more than two goals. A bountiful October offensively gave way to an awful November swoon that seemed to carry on a bit into December. In their last three contests, however, the Stars have 3, 5, and 4 goals. Not an explosion by any means, but an encouraging uptick that will hopefully continue through this home stand.
Detroit's line scored all 3 goals for the Wings, and the Stars had 2 goals from James Neal, and another off a Brad Richards feed to the hero of the day, Karlis Skrastins.
I really enjoy Skrastins and his style. Not the most glamorous signing in the league this summer, Skrastins has been a much needed defensive pillar for the team, and it is scary to wonder where they would be without his contributions helping Robidas and Daley usher along the kids.
But, on Saturday, with some of the defensemen down to injury, Skrastins found his way into the goal-scoring column, for the first time as a Dallas Star. And then, he enjoyed it so much, he did it again!
As Razor indicated, any time a defensive defenseman scores twice, you better win.
The Stars managed only two goals in each of their two games against San Jose this season. They will need continued contribution from the blue line and third and fourth lines if they are to maintain their newly elevated goal scoring pace.
Dallas re-called Ivan Vishnevskiy for the second time this season, though it is not clear whether he'll play tonight. The Stars used Jeff Woywitka and Maxime Fortunus on Saturday with Fistric and Daley both out of the lineup. The battered Stars blue line did not have to face Zetterberg on Saturday, and struggled to contain Pavel Datsyuk. Tonight they will have to prove themselves against tougher competition in Heatley, Thornton and all the Shark gang.
I've said it before in this space and I'll say it again now: The Sharks are scary good. Despite the fact that they're 1-2-3 in their last six games, they're scary good. They're also very well rested. San Jose has played only once in the last seven days.
Their top end talent aside (very top end), Shark fans evidently feel that they need more from the rest of the forward group. Fear The Fin:
San Jose's bottom six once again drew a blank against the Anaheim Ducks, making that one goal from the lower lines in the last six games. The role of these forwards extends far beyond scoring goals of course, and the defensive/grit aspects of Mitchell's, Malhotra's, Nichol's, and Ortmeyer's game brings a lot of value to the San Jose Sharks as a whole. These should not be cast aside as unimportant.
That being said, the reliance on the team's top line for goal scoring is troubling. Marleau and Heatley have accounted for roughly 40% of the team's goal output this season; when they fail to score the team drops to an unimpressive 2-4-2 [link]. It's an issue that needs to be addressed, and without the aforementioned salary cap space, it's an issue that will have to be taken care of in-house.
Depth scoring isn't always necessary to beat the Stars, who allowed three goals from Detroit's top trio on Saturday.
Keep an eye on Devin Setoguchi tonight. He recently snapped a 10 game pointless streak and loves to play at American Airlines Center.
Sharks: Brad Staubitz is questionable with a broken cheek bone.
Stars: Trevor Daley (shoulder) and Mark Fistric (concussion) remain out indefinitely.