The Dallas Stars have held the Pacific Division lead for 76 days. It very well could end tonight if the team cannot find a way to put a stop to their current skid and get a win against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The San Jose Sharks have come charging all the way back from the dead after a stretch that saw them lose six games in a row in January, and finally threaten tonight, as they visit the New Jersey Devils, to take back the Pacific Division lead.
The Stars have lost four in a row and six of their last seven over all. They're searching for their first win in the month of February and their first home win since January 26th. Dallas beat Chicago 4-2 early in January and dropped a 5-3 decision at United Center in December. This is their first meeting at the AAC this year.
Special teams will be key tonight for Dallas. They allowed the Coyotes two power play goals in their Wednesday loss and have themselves scored just a single power play goal in their last seven games (1 for 22). Dallas went a perfect 3 for 3 in these team's last meeting and the Stars are hoping for a repeat performance.
Tonight's game will have added intrigue for fans and players alike as long time Dallas Stars netminder Marty Turco is schedule to make his first start against his former team. The reception will surely be warm from the Dallas crowd who has already had to welcome Mike Modano back to the AAC this season, also wearing red.
Warm wishes and fond memories aside, tonight's game should be a war. Both teams face falling out of the playoff race completely if recent slumps continue. It's all about the 2 points.
Tickets for the game were reported to be very scarce yesterday afternoon (the Blackhawks bring a good crowd, though they didn't as recently as three years ago, for some reason...) so expect a sellout, the first since the Red Wings visited on December 29th. If you're still looking, try the Stars first but ticket brokers might be the only way to go.
Continued after the jump...
Injuries remain the name of the game for Dallas coming into this one. I tweeted last night that the NHL.com game preview at the time mentioned only Ray Sawada under injuries for Dallas. We all wish that were the case.
Jamie Benn remains out with a shoulder injury and is not close to returning. Toby Petersen has been sidelined over a month with a foot contusion and is getting closer but will not play tonight. Adam Burish and Krys Barch both had surgery on fractured orbital bones are out indefinitely, though not on IR.
Tom Wandell returned to the lineup on Wednesday and played on a line with Steve Ott and 20 year old Tomas Vincour, who made his NHL debut.
If there is a bright side to having half of the forward core injured, it's that we'll likely get to see Vincour again tonight. The youngster is an impressive package and showed flashes of his brilliant pre-season on Wednesday night. He's not afraid of contact, he has good hands, and he played very well away from the puck against Phoenix with some nice back checking. All eyes will be on the young man tonight to see if he can do it again, if Crawford doesn't opt for seven defensemen.
James Neal struggled through what was later reported to be a sore neck on Wednesday and played despite earlier reports that he probably would not. He was off yesterday and we'll update his status when we know more. The Stars have not re-called anyone yet so we'll go on thinking everything is status quo for now with the forwards.
Mark Fistric played Wednesday. Matt Niskanen did not. That could change tonight as well.
Kari Lehtonen will be in net tonight. Dallas allowed 37 shots to CHI in their win and only 24 in the 5-3 December loss. What then, is the recipe for success tonight?
Chicago ended a bad stretch of losing four of five on Wednesday as they beat the Edmonton Oilers, but still sit in 11th place, three points out of a playoff spot. Only five points separate the 3rd place Stars and 11th place Blackhawks, so this game has head to head implications as well with so much hockey yet to play in the season.
We've talked about Marty Turco already and the local media will focus on that aspect of the game but Chicago's problems of late have been in other areas. As bad as the Stars PP has been recently, the Hawks have nearly equaled it's futility with their own going 2 for 19 on their current road trip. That includes 1 for 6 against Edmonton on Wednesday and it's surely an area they're looking to improve.
Marian Hossa has taken some flack on the internet for his inconsistency lately and the forward might not be able to get back on track tonight as he is questionable with the flu.
Chicago hit the trade market this week acquiring 22 year old Michael Frolik from the Florida Panthers for Jack Skille. Frolik has hands and can put the puck in the net but is lauded more for his vision and is seen in Chicago as someone who might able to feed the puck to some of the scorers there. He'll probably make his debut tonight in Dallas for Chicago at the center position but Joel Quenneville says he's an option for them on the wing as well.
Frolik had an assist on the Panthers lone goal against the Stars this year. Hawks fans think this is a good deal and a big move that should add to their club immediately. Hopefully not tonight.
We'll see you right here for the GDT tonight.