It's gut check time for the Dallas Stars. That's what it has all boiled down to. They've played well all month long but continually come up just short, and now there is precious little time remaining to them. If they're going to show the stomach for this fight, it must be tonight in Phoenix against a hot Coyotes team.
Before losing to the Sharks 4-1 over the weekend, the Phoenix Coyotes had won seven of eight games, all in regulation. In that span they allowed 10 goals. Total. In eight games. 1.25 per game.To say they've been stingy lately would be a severe understatement. Of course, the Stars are familiar with their frustrating game plan having been held to two or fewer by Phoenix three times already this season.
Phoenix was the scene of the crime depicted here in this NHL.com highlight to begin the month. The first crime was the Stars allowing the Coyotes 2 goals in the final minutes and then Jamie Benn perpetrated one of his own, stealing the game with less than five seconds to play with a power play goal. It was the first game of what was expected to be a brutal road swing through the Pacific Division. It gave them confidence and they took seven of eight points on that trip.
They'll need a similarly inspiring two points tonight; A catalyst to set them back on the right path.
As usual the scoreboard watching did nothing for Dallas' chances last night. The Red Wings dropped one at home to the Blackhawks (90 points) and the Ducks took care of the defunct Colorado Avalanche at home (91) points. The Stars remain in 10th place and the gap is widening.
The more we talk about it, the less there is to say. The only thing left for the Stars is to just find a way to win one game at a time.
Continued after the jump...
How did the Stars find a way when last they visited the (soon to be subsidized by tax payers) Phoenix Coyotes?
That was really the coming out party for the stretch of incredible hockey Jamie Benn was about to unleash on the league. He had been back only a few games and was showing signs of dominance but that game was where he really got going. Aside from the game winner, he took seven shots on goal and attempted another six while playing nearly 23 minutes.
Also huge in that game was Kari Lehtonen, who weathered a tremendous Phoenix storm in the second and third periods before the capitulation in front of him was just too much to take. He'll need to be great again tonight because beating the Coyotes these days means doing it with two goals, if Bryzgalov will give you that much.
There is no news on the injury front. Adam Burish made the trip, as did Karlis Skrastins, but neither will play tonight. Nicklas Grossman stayed home with his sprained MCL. As such, the Stars will ice the same lineup they did against the Ducks and Predators recently.
Brad Lukowich was only given 10 minutes of ice time in each of his first two games, while his partner Mark Fistric received 14 in his first game and only 11 in the second. Expect to see a similar distribution tonight with Goligoski and Robidas getting nearly 30 minutes again as Marc Crawford tries to ride his top guys.
When goals are hard to come by the Stars look to the power play for opportunities and momentum. The problem with that tonight is that the Coyotes have surrendered only six power plays in their last four games, and they'll be very disciplined again tonight as they wait out the Stars and counter punch when the time is right.
On the flip side the Coyotes have only converted five of their last forty power play chances (12.5%). The Stars will try to keep that number down while missing big penalty killers in Grossman and Skrastins.
Kari Lehtonen will (presumably) start in net. I don't think there's any question right now until the playoff math tells them otherwise.
Phoenix will be without Ed Jovanovski, Martin Hanzal and possibly Vernon Fiddler.
Win or lose, late night hockey with us in the Gameday Thread is always fun. See you there.