It's been sixteen days since the Dallas Stars have won a game in regulation. That's a long time. Maybe even the longest in the conference. Yet they stand with a 6-2-2 record in their last ten games and sit on top of the Pacific Division by the slimmest of margins. It's a testament to how crazy the Western standings are right now.
Sixteen days, though, since their last regulation win, and some pretty rough goes between now and then. This team is looking for a full 60 minutes effort tonight, and has to do it in a place where they were severely frustrated just two weeks ago in a 3-2 shootout loss. If nothing else, it's their last trip to Columbus this season.
As much as the Stars have struggled lately, the Blue Jackets have struggled more. Despite their big win over Dallas, aided by a pretty "interesting" call on Karlis Skrastins, Columbus is 2-5-3 in their last ten and are 1-2-2 since that last meeting, collecting points more often than not but giving more away. All those losses have come on the road. Some home cooking should have the Jackets feeling good tonight on TXA-21 at 6:00pm.
Continued after the jump...
A strength of the Stars early in the season was their even strength play. They were among the league leaders in "5 on 5 GF/GA" ratio, which is a pretty good predictor of who the top teams are going to be, but lately they've dropped precipitously in that department. The Stars have scored only four even strength goals in their last four games. The power play has started to produce, yes, but their dominance at even strength has all but disappeared. That's something to watch out for tonight as they battle an already difficult trend of not being able to score much on the road.
The biggest item of intrigue, at least this morning before we're updated after morning skate, is who is going to start in goal? Marc Crawford was coy with the media on Friday, declining to comment on his plan for the weekend back-to-back, and leaving to our imaginations how Kari Lehtonen responded to that first start back on Thursday night.
Logic might tell us Lehtonen tonight, Raycroft tomorrow, so that Kari could be ready again for Montreal on Tuesday, but since when has predictability been a part of covering a hockey team?
Also candidates to get into the lineup: Matt Niskanen, who had been scratched twice against the Sharks this week, and Krys Barch, who is making his way back from a foot/ankle injury. Fresh legs will be needed either way Detroit on less than 22 hours rest.
The Blue Jackets:
Columbus opens up a stretch of five of seven games at home tonight after having been shellacked 6-3 in Edmonton on Thursday night while the Stars were getting out-skated by the Sharks. The Jackets are trying to bully their way into the top 8 in the conference but there are already three Central Division teams there in Detroit, Nashville and Chicago.
Let's take a look at Jackets Cannon, our SB Nation brethren, for some Columbus insight after their latest loss:
At this point, I don't even question Mason anymore - I am seriously doubtful of Dave Rook's suitability as a goalie coach. Rook was brought in from the London Knights to help develop and refine Mason two years ago, and since his arrival, the young franchise netminder has proceeded straight to hell.
At some point, Mason is simply not being prepared adequately to play, and I really wonder what the hell Rook is doing if he can't get his supposed protege on track for two years.
Good on Kristian Huselius for delivering the hat trick. Bad on Steve Mason for letting in 6 goals, four of which were buttery soft.
So some goaltending problems are evident and the fans are not happy. Columbus should be a motivated bunch tonight and their goaltending should be much improved.
As the Stars seem to inspire great individual performances (Shane Doan, Setoguchi, etc...) I would expect a big night from Rick Nash tonight, who loves playing the Dallas Stars, even if he does
maybe might possibly? like playing in Columbus, Ohio.