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Gameday Preview: Dallas Stars @ St. Louis Blues (6:30pm CST)

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Game 44: Dallas Stars @ St. Louis Blues

Monday, January 16th, 2011, 6:30 PM CST
Scottrade Center

Local TV, Radio: NBC Sports Network (Versus), KTCK 1310 The Ticket

Opponent Blog: St. Louis Game Time

The already struggling Dallas Stars told the media Sunday that they'd likely be without Mike Ribeiro into February, making the five game stretch before the All-Star break all the more challenging. Then they added later in the day that the team's best player and All-Star in Jamie Benn had undergone an appendectomy and would be out two weeks, making the word challenging altogether inadequate.

Francis Wathier was recalled from the Texas Stars but no further moves have been made. Joe Nieuwendyk says the remaining group of players will have to find a way with their top two centers and playmakers out for an extended stretch.

"We feel we have the players here top handle it, but we'll look at every option and see what we can do,'' Nieuwendyk told the Dallas Morning News yesterday. "It'll be tough, but the players here have to step up and help. The players here have to be able to do a little more.''

A little more is what the club needed on Saturday afternoon against Colorado. The Avalanche played a lackluster game with few shots or scoring chances in the early going but the Stars had even fewer. Now they face needing a lot more in the absence of both Benn and Ribeiro.

The Stars' first visit to St. Louis on December 26th didn't quite go as planned. Dallas trailed the Blues 4-1 midway through the third period before scoring a pair to bring the margin back to a single shot. The comeback effort fell short and an empty net goal made it 5-3. Richard Bachman struggled in the loss, as did the Stars penalty kill that allowed two in just two opportunities. The Blues frustrated the Stars with strong defensive play throughout.

St. Louis is 10-0-2 in their last twelve home games. Consider the injuries the Stars have sustained and the Blues propensity for defensive hockey, this one should be a low scoring game if things go according to plan.

More on each team after the jump...

The Stars:

With Tom Wandell already moved up the lineup to play with Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson, there's little else to move around to cover for the loss of Benn without destroying the continuity of the remaining lines. There's been talk of calling up Travis Morin from the Texas Stars but that hasn't happened and won't be an option for Monday night's game.

Steve Ott can play center, as can Toby Petersen, but Vernon Fiddler is next on the depth chart. Coach Gulutzan has been loathe to break up the Fiddler, Eric Nystrom, Radek Dvorak trio but this may force his hand. They said repeatedly over the summer that Fiddler could "scale up" if needed. It appears now to be needed.

Michael Ryder, Loui Eriksson and Brenden Morrow remain as accomplished goal scorers in need of distributors in the middle. Tom Wandell's minutes will continue to increase (and he'll get even more PP time now) but right now we have no idea how the rest will play out.

Tomas Vincour is getting close and could even play Friday night if things fall right, which would be a welcome infusion of size and puck possession skills into a lineup now sorely lacking them, even if he's not a center.

"You'll definitely see Bachman [Monday] or against Detroit," said Gulutzan Sunday morning. So we don't yet know who might be in goal. Bachman started the team's last game in St. Louis and allowed three goals that he'd probably rather have back, so this might not be a good spot for him. On the other hand, the Red Wings will be in Dallas tonight waiting for the Stars to return, so that's a rough spot as well.

Who would you start in goal? How would you construct the lines? It's going to be an interesting night in St. Louis.

The Blues:

St. Louis is right where we left them in December: Rolling along and doing nothing but picking up points. They're 20-5-6 since Ken Hitchcock took over and they don't like to get scored on.

They're on a six game point streak (5-0-1) and have allowed just nine goals in that time, eight in regulation. They continue to get strong goaltending from both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Halak started their last outting, a shootout win against the Wild at home.

The St. Louis is power play has been improving, converting on 10 of their last 36 chances (27.8%), including the two they scored on Dallas in December.

Despite being known as a team that plays defensively the Blues have been putting a lot of rubber on opponents nets lately, including 49(!) shots at Minnesota's Saturday. They average 34.5 shots per game over their last 15 outings. Before allowing 31 SOG against Saturday they had allowed just 15, 19, and 21 to their last three opponents. A big negative shot differential was a problem for Dallas Saturday (just 1 SOG in the first period) and could rear it's head again tonight.

The Blues lineup, as good as it is, is still with Center Andy McDonald and C Alex Steen, but they're still finding a way to dominate. Here's what they do have:




The St. Louis Post Dispatch is pondering, not whether or not the Blues will make the playoffs (of course they will), but rather where they stack up with the other "big boys":

So, with those parameters established, we'll note that the Blues have come up short in their last four encounters against three elite teams in the Western Conference. The Blues squandered a 2-1 lead in a home loss to Chicago; they blew a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss at Detroit; they were blanked 3-0 at Detroit; and on Thursday night couldn't hold a 2-1 lead in a 3-2 OT loss to Vancouver at The Scotty. The Blues did get a win at home against Detroit after the Chicago loss, but that isn't the point.

The point is this: Hitchcock has said that teams will be adjusting to the Blues after getting a handle on the Blues' strategy since the coaching change. Hitchcock has stressed -- over and over again -- that it will be more difficult and challenging for the Blues to get the edge on the great teams after the teams have gone against the Blues and make the necessary revisions.

In that context -- for those who missed the point -- the facts are: the Blues have lost their most recent encounter against Chicago, their last two meetings against Detroit, and their last game against Vancouver. []