Saturday, February 4th, 2012, 7:30 PM CST
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: Hockey Wilderness
The Stars saw their two game win streak snapped on Thursday by a dominating performance from the San Jose Sharks. The 5-2 score only begins to tell the tale of a game in which the Sharks controlled the play from start to finish, out-shooting the Stars 37-21 and winning a staggering 40 of 52 faceoffs.
"I thought they were at the top of their game," said Glen Gulutzan, giving all the credit to the Sharks. "We didn't win any battles starting from the faceoff circles to corner. The way they were moving the puck around, we were just chasing it. We were a step behind."
Dallas has a game in hand on the Wild and sits three points back of the 8th and final playoff spot. To call tonight's match-up huge from a playoff seeding standpoint would be a bit of an understatement.
In their last meeting an injured Stars team fought their way to a 2-1 lead in the second period but an improbable 59 second span saw the Minnesota score three times to take the lead and eventually secure a huge two points in the race for the post-season.
According to Dallas Stars PR, the Stars have won 14 consecutive home games against the Wild, dating back to March 21st, 2003. They have not lost in regulation to the Wild at home since March 8th, 2002. So there's a bit of a favorable trend here for Dallas where the Wild are concerned.
The big news of the day, however, is that the Stars' post All-Star game health was short lived as Nick Grossman missed time with the flu and now captain Brenden Morrow has landed back on the IR list with more back/neck issues. Tomas Vincour has been recalled from the Texas Stars to fill out the roster.
On which line will he play?
Much more on each team after the jump...The Stars:
Since starting 8-3 at home this year the Stars have gone a dreary 5-6-2 at American Airlines Center, including dropping three of their last four there. Dallas is 4-3-0 at home on Saturdays this year.
The team remains (presumably) healthy on defense, with Nick Grossman returned from his flu. Gulutzan chose to use seven defensemen Thursday night against the Sharks and sit Jake Dowell. I would speculate that Fistric will sit after two games in and Grossman and Daley will be reunited full time, but anything is possible and Grossman's outing was a little rough.
Morrow's absence creates a bit of a quandary. They could move Eriksson to the left side and slot Vincour in with the Ribeiro trio. They could also shuffle things a little more dramatically and leave Vincour in a 4th line (or a scratch) type role and bring Adam Burish up to the top six. We'll update after morning skate later this afternoon.
Kari Lehtonen should be back in net after Richard Bachman played the second night of the back to back and took the loss. With two days off before the next home game we'll expect Kari to start against Phoenix as well, and then we'll see. The Stars have a back to back road trip to Colubus and Buffalo and playing Lehtonen on the second night might be a good way to break out of the back to back funk. Then again, the last time Gulutzan tried that he was rewarded with a Kari Lehtonen injury in Phoenix Thanksgiving weekend, and people tend not to forget those kinds of things, coincidence though it may be.
Since the Stars helped the Wild to escape their "lost 15 of 17" rut Minnesota has been victorious in three of their last four. Their only loss in that stretch was a horrific collapse against Nashville in which Minnesota allowed the Preds to score four times in the final 10 minutes. The Wild have defeated the Avalanche in regulation twice in their last three games to fight them off and stay above both Colorado and Dallas in the playoff race.
The Wild have surrendered just one power play opportunity against in three of their last four games, in stark contrast to what the Stars did in San Jose on Thursday night. What had been a pretty bad penalty kill unit heading into that game with Dallas has kept a clean sheet in their last four games. Their power play has clicked in three of those four contests.
Nicklas Backstrom is coming off a 37 save shutout in Colorado and should get the start here tonight.
Wild Captain and center Mikko Koivu has returned to practice with his teammates and they could get some good news on that front later in this same road trip, but he is not expected to return against Dallas.
In the mean time the Wild have dealt for center Erik Christensen, (now) formerly of the New York Rangers. Formally the deal is Erik Christensen and a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft from the New York Rangers in exchange for forward Casey Wellman, who the Rangers will put in the minor leagues. He had "used up" all his chances to make an impact with the Rangers, to borrow a term from the New York media, and the Wild have a need with all of their injuries.
Hockey Wilderness identifies Christensen as a shootou wizard, and they need help there, so if it gets that far tonight we'll keep an eye out for him. Otherwise they're hoping that a "change of scenery" will do him some good.
The question is: Where will they put him? The Wild reassigned 4th line center Chad Rau back to their AHL affiliate, so Christensen could slot in there and the lineup could looke something like this...
Nick Johnson - Kyle Brodziak - Dany Heatley
Cal Clutterbuck - Matt Cullen - Devin Setoguchi
Darroll Powe - Warren Peters - Carson McMillan
Jed Ortmeyer - Erik Christensen? - Matt Kassian
Nick Schultz - Jared Spurgeon
Justin Falk - Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner - Greg Zanon