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Gameday Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets @ Dallas Stars (7:30pm CST)

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Game 36: Columbus Blue Jackets @ Dallas Stars

Thursday, December 29th, 2011, 7:30 PM CST
American Airlines Center

Local TV, Radio: FS SW HD, KTCK 1310 The Ticket

Opponent Blog:The Cannon

The Dallas Stars will look to bounce back tonight after a disappointing 5-3 loss in St. Louis on Monday, and they'll have the most important healthy body of all back to help them do it: Kari Lehtonen.

Lehtonen has missed 12 games with a groin injury suffered in Phoenix on November 26th. The Stars managed a 7-5-0 record in that time thanks to the goaltending of Richard Bachman and Andrew Raycroft (now on waivers, though he did put forth two stellar efforts in wins against the Senators and Avalanche). The big Finn carries with him a 13-4-1 record on the season.

His return comes at the right time for the Stars, who made it known Wednesday afternoon that the club's top defensive pairing in Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray would miss the next 10-14 days with their foot and ankle injuries, encompassing at least five additional games.

"Having Hammer [Souray] and Robi out is a big loss for our club," said Gulutzan Wednesday. "If you take two guys that play around 22 minutes a night and two veteran, savvy guys that give you a little bit of everything: offense, physical presence, leadership - those are big holes to fill."

The Jackets enter as the league's worst team (by record) at 9-22-5, and the worst road team at 3-12-2. They have not won a game on the road in regulation this season. The Stars took back to back meetings with Columbus in mid-October by a combined score of 7-4.

The Stars:

Coach Glen Gulutzan made a point this week after practices to say that specialty teams would be a big focus of this next seven game set/series. The power play was scheduled to get some work yesterday and could get more today at morning skate. Can the Stars get healthy against a poor penalty killing team? One thing to note is that the Blue Jackets have been limiting their opponent's opportunities recently, surrendering just 2.5 power plays per game over their last six, so that could hinder Dallas' effort.

The defensive pairings should stay the same, sans Robidas and Souray:


The Goligoski pair is earning more minutes (23-24) than the Grossman pairing (20-22) and the Fistric/Pardy duo comes in a distant third at around 13-15 minutes a game. Look for the coaching staff to continue limiting defensive zone starts for the Fistric pairing. Can Larsen hold up over the long term with nearly first-pair responsibilities until Robidas and Souray return? Keep en eye on all of that over the next five games.

At the time of his injury Lehtonen had lost four of six, coinciding with the Stars offensive woes of mid-November, but he himself was experiencing a bit of a market correction in that span. He had stopped 157 of the last 174 shots faced (.902), well under his season average. The big question with his return is: Which Kari Lehtonen do the Stars get right out of the box? That Kari, or the dominant one of their first 14 games? With their top defensive pair out in Robidas and Souray, he could see a large work load immediately.

The Jackets third line of Pahlsson, Dorsett and Umberger is a combined -7 on the year, a really impressive number considering Columbus carries players with plus/minuses of -20 (Rick Nash) and -14 (Brassard), etc. If The Fiddler line is matched with that trio they'll have their hands full trying to add to Eric Nystrom's career high goal total.

Finally, a good note courtesy of Stars PR: Dallas hasn't allowed Columbus to score over two goals in a game in their last nine meetings (does not include shootout totals). The last time Columbus scored three or more goals in regulation against Dallas was Nov. 19, 2009 when the Blue Jackets defeated the Stars 4-1 at American Airlines Center.

The Blue Jackets:

As Dallas saw against Columbus on October 19th, just because the Jackets have a bad record doesn't mean they won't challenge you and play hard. They out-chanced the Stars 21-9 by our count that night [link] and the Stars needed every big save Kari Lehtonen could give them to get two points that night.

The Flames, in winning a 2-1 shootout game against the Blue Jackets the other night, saw the same thing. Read the AP report here and the multiple voices emanating from the Calgary locker room saying how good Miikka Kipprusoff had to be to win that game. If they bring a similar effort Kari Lehtonen could be in for a big test in his first game back.

Columbus averaged 2.42 goals per game in December, a shade better than their 2.33 mark on the year. They surrendered them in bunches, however, giving up 3.58 per in 12 December games so far. Their 15% power play is better than Dallas' on the year thus far, but their penalty killing is 29th in the league at 74.6%. They've surrendered power play goals in each of their last three, but had a clean sheet in the four games prior (killed 10 of 10).

Steve Mason is expected to get the start in net. He's 0-8-0 on the road this season with a 4.80 GAA.

The Columbus lineup as of late:



There is plenty of talent to fear in that lineup. The Jackets are (over) due for that first regulation road win and the Stars will want to be careful to focus on the task at hand rather than looking ahead to a big New Years Eve tilt against the Boston Bruins.