To use an anology, James Neal is to Columbus as Steve Ott is to St. Louis. The Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets meet for the second time this year, but it is the third part of a story that spans last season and this one. A story that needs retelling before they can begin:
Twas the night before (the night before) Christmas, when all through the AAC,
James Neal was frightened. "Oh crap, Columbus is coming to get me."
He had injured Brassard, in a really quick fight,
Dislocated his shoulder and ended his year in one night.
Then in November Dallas was nestled, all snug on their bench,
When Dorsett took revenge, and Neals' buttocks did clench.
And Ma' in K1, and I K2,
Arose from our seats to see what James Neal would do.
When along the half boards, there arose such a clatter,
Toronto even took note to see what was the matter.
Towards the boards Neal did coast, hunting for the puck,
And hit Dorsett's shoulder, but to Neal's bad luck.
And as James Neal turned, forgetting that arse,
Derek Dorsett's head flew right into the glass.
So often this happens, and the league is often mute,
But James Neal was suspended, what's that all aboot???
For weeks after that, he wasn't himself,
He hesitated and struggled, his aggression on the shelf.
But slowly and surely, his swagger returned,
A team leading 16 goals the young sophomore has earned.
A wink of his eye, and a turn of his head
And soon Stars fans, you'll know, you have nothing to dread.
So our story continues tonight, as Columbus comes back
Penalty minutes will fly, and some eyes will turn black.
They'll spring to the ice, to their team give a whistle
And to the penalty box they'll fly, like the down of a thistle.
And you'll hear James exclaim, as he begins his next fight,
Let's kick the crap out of Columbus tonight!
Follow the jump for a (more serious) look at both teams and an injury report...
The Dallas Stars are coming off a very tough loss to the San Jose Sharks on Monday night at the AAC. Dallas out-chanced and out-shot San Jose for most of the game, but Nabokov and his posts were equal to the task and Dallas fell, after an empty net goal, 4-2.
The team fought back from a 2-0 third period deficit, and out-skated the Sharks throughout. If they can carry that momentum and confidence into this game against a struggling Columbus team, they have a chance to get two points. But as I mentioned before, things are rather complicated between these two foes.
Jere Lehtinen (groin) did not practice and is listed as day to day.
Trevor Daley (shoulder) and Mark Fistric (concussion) are getting better, but will not play against Columbus Wednesday.
Lines were juggled slightly, as Fabian Brunnstrom was moved up and playing with Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott. Mike Modano had Brian Sutherby on one wing and possibly Toby Petersen or Krys Barch on the other. We'll see if that shakes out.
Jeff Woywitka, Ivan Vishnevksiy and Matt Niskanen alternated on the third pair on defense. We'll see if Marc Crawford decides to put Niskanen back in tomorrow.
Crawford said he still hasn't decided on a goalie yet, but he sure sounded like he was leaning toward Marty Turco against the Blue Jackets. He said he feels the schedule is very manageable right now and that Turco played well on Monday.
The defensive pairings bear watching tonight, as some feel that Vishnevskiy, after his miscue on Monday, should be replaced by Matt Niskanen. Nisky was sent a pretty clear message by Marc Crawford when he was benched despite injuries to Trevor Daley and Mark Fistric.
The Stars have fallen to 10th place in the West. Marty Turco is expected in goal tonight.
The Blue Jackets:
Columbus had what is being described as an "emotional" meeting with Ken Hitchcock this week. They are winless in their last 7 (0-5-2).
The Blue Jackets carry a seven-game losing streak into a game tonight against the Dallas Stars in American Airlines Center. They've dropped nine straight on the road and 15 of 17 games overall.
As those numbers have grown, so has the burden on the shoulders of the Blue Jackets' players, and it's been evident in their play of late -- tentative, afraid to make a mistake, slow of mind and foot. During the seven losses, they've given up the first goal six times and been outscored 10-1 in the first period.
"Everyone is angry and frustrated," captain Rick Nash said.
Yesterday was an emotional day spent off the ice, searching for a way to lift the stress that threatens to ruin the season.
The most noteworthy event occurred before noon, when general manager Scott Howson, coach Ken Hitchcock and his staff and 10 veteran players --Nash, Umberger, Antoine Vermette, Fredrik Modin, Sammy Pahlsson, Kristian Huselius, Jason Chimera, Mike Commodore, Jan Hejda and Fedor Tyutin -- stepped into a conference room for a meeting that stunned at least a few of the players.
According to players, who didn't want to discuss the meeting publicly, Hitchcock opened up in a way they have not seen, letting down his "coaching" guard and showing them a side that rarely finds its way through all the film study and the harping on playing more competitively.
It seems as though the Stars will get Columbus' best shot tonight as they try to get back on track.
Dallas: Jere Lehtinen (groin), Trevor Daley (shoulder), Mark Fistric (concussion)
Columbus: Derek Dorsett (broken hand), Rostislav Klesla (torn groin)