[UPDATE: Mike Heika reports that Marty Turco and Brenden Morrow both missed the morning skate "because of illness." Alex Auld will start in net tonight, and Brenden Morrow is looking very questionable for the game. Jere Lehtinen looks to be in. -Brad G]
[UPDATE #2: Apparently the illness is going around. Craig Anderson is out as well for the Avs. Peter Budaj is in net for Colorado.]
When you look at the season the Colorado Avalanche have had and you compare that to the one we've seen with the Dallas Stars so far, at first glance it would seem as if the Avs have enjoyed a much more successful season so far. They're third in the Western Conference and sit atop the Northwest division and have surprised everyone with how quickly they've rebounded from a sub-par season.
Yet in reality the Stars aren't as far behind the Avs as it would initially seem. Thanks to a higher number of overtime games, the Stars are just five points behind the Avalanche in the standings and have two games in hand. It's amazing to think that after all of this frustration we've dealt with this season, just a few straight wins could jump the Stars up two or three places in the standings.
The key to this equation is for the Stars not to give any points away to Western opponents. If the Stars hope to attempt to climb up the standings at all, they must win in regulation and not allow these games to make it to overtime. Winning in the shootout will be fine and all, yet that extra point will eventually come back and haunt the Stars.
Dallas has played consistently strong for over a week now; their only hiccup coming when they ran into the Evgeni Nabokov wall. The Stars will be facing another defensively strong team tonight who's employing an MVP-caliber goaltender, so playing well will not be the only key. Taking advantage of the opportunities afforded you, something the Stars have struggled with all season, will be the biggest factor in this game.
A closer look at the Stars and Avs after the jump...
The Dallas Stars:
The big story coming of the win against Columbus wasn't so much the dominant performance by James Neal; the move of Mike Modano from center to winger could have the most long-range effects. It's something that's been talked about for several years now as Modano's skills have diminished with age, to take advantage of his strengths by moving him to the wing next to a playmaking center.
Modano started the game Wednesday night playing on the wing with Mike Ribeiro and while there were certainly some growing pains, especially on defense, it was easy to see the potential that line combination has.
Bobby Hull has told Mike Modano for years that he needs to play on a wing.
"Trail the play, come from behind and unload a big shot," Modano said, repeating the words of instruction he has heard numerous times from Hull, a Hockey Hall of Fame left wing and the father of Modano's good friend Brett.
"He has always said I should have been a wing.""He's earned that [respect and playing time], but you also have to put a player in a position where he can be successful," Crawford said. "Mike has adapted very well to what we've given him this year. It's a great example for our younger players, and really, it's a great example for our whole team the way he has dug in."
Modano still gets a lot of power-play time and still takes key faceoffs. He's a solid backchecker, although his penalty-kill time has been reduced greatly under Crawford. And that's kind of what Modano said he expected as a 39-year-old.
"I don't know that the body can take 20 minutes a game right now, so this is good," he said. "There is so much skating and so much defensive responsibility when you play center that you really are worn out by the end of a game. I feel fresher when I'm playing the wing."
The good news out of all this is we get to see Tom Wandell take on a bigger role on the team, as he slides up the second line center with Brenden Morrow and Jamie Benn. Wandell has been improving every game and has become energy spark offensive counter-punch to Brad Richards' calculated attacks. The top two lines were dominant against Columbus and the hope is that starts a trend that builds every game.
The early indications are that these are the line combinations for the foreseeable future, and hopefully Marc Crawford has finally found the groupings he likes and will stick with.
Expect to see Marty Turco back in net tonight.
The Colorado Avalanche:
The Avs have succeeded this season with great defense and outstanding goaltending. Mile High Hockey wonders if that defensive system will stay strong in the long run.
Even when they win games it seems like they often allow their opponents to creep back into the game; the Minnesota game on Monday being a good example. In the end I think that two stats can explain this; one 'good' and one bad: The Avs are 25th in the league in shots against per game with 32.2 and they are 2nd in the league in blocked shots with 640. Now clearly the 32.2 shots against is terrible but the 640 blocked shots should be a good thing right? Well let's look at the pros and cons of blocked shots.
-Stops the puck from reaching the net.
Only one pro but it's a big one. If the puck can't reach the net it isn't going to go in it.
-Can cause injuries. I know analysts are always praising players for sacrificing themselves but do any of us actually want to see Statsny go down for half a season blocking a shot?
-Can deflect the puck on net or screen the goalie if the block fails.
-To block a shot, a shot needs to be fired which means that the OTHER team is in control of the puck.
These cons mean that a blocked shot should be the method of last resort. They are dangerous, easy to screw up and a player is reacting instead of taking the initiative. So the fact that the Avs have 640 blocked shots is actually not an enviable statistic.
Stars fans will most likely see Craig Anderson in net for the Avalanche tonight. He has a 2.67 GAA and a .917 save percentage this season; if you remember, Anderson was one of the free agent goaltenders the Stars were interested in while waiting on Jonas Gustavsson.
Dallas: RW Jere Lehtinen (groin), D Trevor Daley (shoulder) and D Mark Fistric (concussion) are questionable.
Colorado: RW Marek Svatos (groin) is questionable. D Kyle Cuminsey (foot), RW David Jones (knee) and D Ruslan Salei (back) are out.