Friday, November 4th, 2011, 7:30 PM CDT
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: Mile High Hockey
After a lengthy five day layover the Dallas Stars get back to action tonight against the Colorado Avalanche to wrap up a three game home stand before embarking on a four game trip out East. Both teams enter as surprise success stories to start the year, separated by only two points and currently in Western Conference playoff positioning.
The Stars are 2-2 in their last four and are coming off a win against the New Jersey Devils almost a week ago. Colorado has struggled lately dropping three of their last five.
These teams had a bit of an odd season series in 2010-2011, meeting twice in November and twice in April. The early meetings were dominated by Avalanche who out-scored the Stars 8-3 in two wins and out-shot them 71-60. The two contests in April were big wins for the Stars down the stretch but ultimately meant little to a young Avalanche team long since out of contention, missing big names on their roster.
Colorado last entered Dallas on April 7th with the second least road wins in the entire National Hockey League. To say they've addressed that particular shortcoming would be putting it mildly. The Avalanche enter tonight's contest with a league best 6-1-0 road record that includes wins in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston, Chicago and Columbus. They're scoring at an impressive clip, averaging 3.43 goals/game away from Pepsi Center.
This is the first of three meetings with the Avs this month. Dallas will travel to Denver two Fridays from today and they'll see each again at Pepsi Center on November 28th.
Injury to the forward grouping has the Stars shaking their lines up for this one and we'll take a look after the jump...
Steve Ott has a "hip pointer" and will be unavailable for this game, as well as Sunday's game in the afternoon against the Hurricanes and possibly more. This has Glen Gulutzan shuffling the deck where his top two lines are concerned. Combinations observed this week in practice have been...
Burish spent time on that Ribeiro combination last year and was moved there temporarily in a game against Phoenix recently in a maneuver by Glen Gulultzan that produced a last minute game tying goal. Burish's presence could give Mike Ribeiro some much needed help in the faceoff circle (the NHL has his listed second to last in their "faceoff leaders" stat category. LINK). Steve Ott's absence could hurt the Stars on the dot where special teams are concerned, however.
Incidentally, Avs Ryan O'Reilly and Paul Stastny are among the league leaders in faceoffs.
Nicklas Grossman suffered a skate laceration to his face on Saturday night that required 60 stitches to close, but it's expected he'll be in the lineup tonight as that five day break came at a good time for him.
Kari Lehtonen is expected to be in the pipes for Dallas trying to build on his league leading eight wins.
The Avs have a lethal power play at 26.3% (and a LETHAL 38.1% on the road. Wow! 8 of 21) but are somewhat anemic at even strength with a 5 on 5 GF/GA ratio of just 0.73 (27th in the league).
With all that to consider, the way forward for the Stars is clear: Stay out of the penalty box tonight and play your game at even strength. The Coyotes held the Avs power play scoreless on Wednesday night and still needed 39 saves on 40 shots from Mike Smith to take them down. Colorado can be stingy with power plays surrendered, giving the Coyotes only one attempt.
They've scored only seven goals in their last four games and that's prompted a bit of a re-shuffling of their forward lines as well. The Denver Post says Matt Duchene is moving to left wing...
Looks like Joe Sacco has decided to move Matt Duchene to left wing. That's where No. 9 is skating today at practice, on a new line with Paul Stastny at center and Milan Hejduk on the right side. The other "top line" is now Lindstrom-Galiardi-Jones. Landeskog-O'Reilly-Winnik remains intact.
Colorado's been frustrated after putting up 40, 41 and 36 shots on goal in recent contests and scoring only 1, 1, and 2 goals in those games.
"It's hard to win hockey games when you're not scoring goals," Avs forward Milan Hejduk said recently. "We just have to keep playing the same way and eventually we'll start scoring goals. When you put 40 plus shots at net every night, at some point you need to score more goals than one."
It sounds like they're "due," and the Stars hope tonight isn't the night they finally break out of their slump.