Game 77: Dallas Stars @ Edmonton Oilers
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012, 8:30 PM CST
Local TV, Radio: FSSW, KTCK 1310 The Ticket
Opponent Blog: The Copper & Blue
The Dallas Stars held third place in the West when action began on Monday night, but a loss to Calgary sent them tumbling to seventh. Another set of unfavorable outcomes tonight could see them fall as far as 10th. Two points against the Edmonton Oilers tonight are crucial for their now tenuous playoff hopes. "Must win", one might even call it, with San Jose, San Jose, Vancouver, Nashville and St. Louis coming up on the Stars' schedule.
Against Calgary on Monday night the Stars held a 2-1 lead midway through the game and appeared poised to take at least one point out of that one, but penalties and individual mistakes reared their heads repeatedly en route to a four goal Flames second period.
"Everybody has to realize that we are playing on the road, situations are delicate, there's not margin for error, so we really have to manage our game," said Stars' head coach Glen Gulutzan Tuesday.
The Oilers, firmly out of the Western Conference's playoff picture, are surging nonetheless. They carry a 5-0-2 streak into this one and are looking for their first eight game point streak since the 2005-2006 season.
According to Stars PR: "The Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers conclude their season series on Wednesday night. The Stars have won all three games against them this season (3-0-0) and have outscored them 11-3 in that span. Dallas has earned points in 11 of their last 12 games against the Oilers (9-1-2) and are looking for their first season series sweep against them since the 2007-08 season (4-0-0)."
San Jose, Colorado, Calgary, and Los Angeles are all in action elsewhere tonight in what is sure to be another monumentally important set of games.
More on each team after the jump...The Stars:
The conventional wisdom is that Dallas needs more scoring to be competitive in the Western Conference playoff race, but a series of defensive miscues have haunted them against Calgary, Phoenix and Vancouver recently. They've scored 12 goals in their last 4 contests, yet won only two of them. Turnovers and penalties are as much at fault as anything else for this "lost four of six" slide the team is on.
It's with that in mind that we turn an eye to 20 year old rookie Reilly Smith, who has had one practice with the team, and now that his work-visa paperwork has been settled, is eligible for insertion into the lineup. Do the Stars need to chance the lack of chemistry and NHL experience when they're putting the puck in the net fairly regularly?
"We have his immigration now so he'll be an available player for us at any time," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said Tuesday. "We'll see what we are going to do in that regard."
The guess here is that the Stars will stand pat for now, with Tom Wandell coming back into the lineup, and Brenden Morrow possibly scaling back up to top-six status in the mean time.
Radek Dvorak (ankle) and Eric Nystrom (lower body laceration) are iffy for this one tonight, so additional shuffling in the bottom six will be needed.
On defense the Stars continue to miss the physical presence that is Mark Fistric. It was hoped he could resume play during this four-game trip, but Stars officials now say that the first game back against San Jose at home is his target.
The Stars could use the same top-six lineup tonight that they had in Calgary:
At that point things get adventurous.
Fiddler will center the third line, whatever it is, and Wandell the fourth. A smattering of Dowell, Morrow, Vincour and Garbut will round things out, but how is anyone's guess.
Kari Lehtonen will be in goal. The question there is how the Stars will handle their final back-to-back of the season in Vancouver and San Jose. Would you start Richard Bachman in Vancouver and rest Lehtonen for the Sharks?
All that being said, the most important thing tonight is the same thing it was against Calgary on Monday: Stay out of the box. The Stars have been in the sin bin 33 times in their last 8 games - A dangerous pace to carry into a game against the league's second best power play in Edmonton at 21.3%.
The big news out of Edmonton this week is that Taylor Hall will miss 5-6 months due to shoulder surgery scheduled to happen soon, meaning he is of course out for the remainder of this year. You might think Hall's absence from this game is a good thing for the Dallas Stars, but there's considerable evidence to the contrary.
Start with the fact that Hall has missed the team's last five games anyway because of a concussion issue, and that they've won three of those without him. In fact the team is 5-0-2 in their last seven games and are enjoying one of their best stretches of hockey in a very long time.
They've taken Phoenix to the shootout and have beat Nashville and Calgary in that stretch, so they're not going to roll over and die because it's late in the season and they've been eliminated from playoff contention.
"It's important for our pride and the city of Edmonton to finish strong," said Ryan Jones.
Edmonton returns from a four game road sojourn (3-0-1) for two at Rexall against Pacific Division opponents (Kings on Friday) and have had two off-days before this one - The dreaded "first game back from a road trip", or at least the Stars are hoping it is.
Like the Stars, the Oilers were short handed six times in their previous game and four times each in the three games before that. Edmonton has allowed just 12 goals in their last seven contests (1.71 per) and that's been the biggest reason for their new-found success. They've scored six goals twice in their last four games to prove they're plenty potent on that end of the rink as well.
Their expected lineup:
With Peckham out with a concussion now, it's unclear who will come into that spot in their lineup.