Tuesday, February 7th, 2012, 7:30 PM CST
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: Five For Howling
The Dallas Stars sit two points out of eighth place entering play tonight and for the second straight contest face a direct competitor for that final playoff spot in the Western Conference in the Phoenix Coyotes. Dallas is 2-1-0 in the season series but both wins have come in shootouts, meaning both teams have taken four points from the three match-ups thus far.
Despite winning two of three out of the All-Star break the Dallas Stars have not been happy with their overall play and will look for more consistent effort and execution tonight.
"We relied on our goalie a lot," Dallas Head Coach Gulutzan said after Saturday's win over Minnesota. "We have to be better. We have to be better. I'm ecstatic about the two points and it's going to help us, but we have a different level that we need to get to."
Phoenix, meanwhile, has come out of the break with their collective hair on fire, so to speak. Languishing around 12th place, they could have easily folded with games against the Conference's best team in San Jose and Detroit, but they rose up and took both games in regulation, tying the Stars with 56 points in the standings heading into this one.
Last night they defeated the Red Wings 3-1 on the strength of 30 Mike Smith saves and a shorthanded goal scored.
The Stars have failed to really take advantage of facing teams on the second night of their back to backs, going just 3-4-1 in those games so far this year. Factor in also that the Coyotes are 4-3-1 on the second night of back to backs this year (where as the Stars have gone winless to the tune of a damaging 0-8-1) and it's hard to come up with a perceived scheduling advantage for Dallas.
Much more on each team after the jump...
The Stars tonight will look for their first three game win streak at home since October 10th, 13th and 15th when the season had just began. That streak included a 2-1 shootout win against these same Phoenix Coyotes, with Lehtonen stopping 40 of 41 shots in the victory.
Lines from Glen Gulutzan's practice on Monday looked like this...
Tomas Vincour played effectively on the Fiddler line Saturday with Nystrom moved up in place of the injured Brenden Morrow, but now it appears as though he'll be replaced there by Adam Burish.
Defensive pairings are expected to remain consistent as: Robidas/Souray, Daley/Grossman and Goligoski/Larsen. Mark Fistric will likely be the healthy scratch on defense.
Yesterday the Dallas Stars assigned defensemen Adam Pardy to the Texas Stars of the AHL on a conditioning assignment. It will reportedly last two games and Pardy will rejoin the team on Thursday. He has not played for Dallas since January 10th.
Kari Lehtonen is expected to be in net tonight. He has won each of his last three starts, allowing just three goals on 96 shots faced (.969 save percentage).
According to Stars PR: "The Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes are two of the top-five teams in the NHL this season when leading after two periods. Dallas is 15-0-0, while Phoenix has a 19-1-0 record. The Stars have not lost a game in regulation when leading after two periods since Oct. 31, 2009 (vs. NSH, 56-0-5 since then)."
Phoenix has won just 6 of their last 19 games, getting out-shot in 13 of them, but two of them were the most recent pair: Big wins over the Sharks and the Red Wings. Dave Tippett's club has shown the ability after the break to shut down the best teams in the league and get timely goal scoring, something the Stars have been unable to do this year going a combined 0-5-1 against those two opponents.
The Coyotes just wrapped up a six game home stand and still have more home games remaining down the stretch than away games - A good reason not to count them out of the race for eighth.
Phoenix had lost seven straight to the Red Wings leading up to their win last night, including post-season play. They were unable to best the Wings at even strength, setting aside the EN goal to ice it. The two traded power play goals and a short handed tally proved to be the difference in the end.
"It's been kind of a struggle finding ways to beat this team," Mike Smith said. "They're obviously an elite team in this league and any game against them is going to be hard to win, but we were gritty tonight. We found a way to get a win tonight on home ice when it's needed the most."
Over their last 19 games Phoenix has converted just 5 of their last 51 power play opportunities (9.8%), though they've allowed just six power play goals against in that same span. They recently had a nine game stretch where they allowed their opponents two or fewer power plays, so expect Dave Tippett's group to be a disciplined, stingy bunch.
According to Stars PR, Dallas is the fifth most penalized team in the NHL (666 min, 13.1 min/game), while the Coyotes are the least penalized (407 min, 7.8 min/game).
Smith played last night and has played in back to back situations before this year going 2-0-1, including a win over the Stars in November (a shutout, no less). The Coyotes have a busy week so we'll see if they go with LaBarbera or not after morning skate. Tippett likes to use his number one against division foes, historically speaking, so we're guessing we'll see Smith against the Stars tonight.