After five long days the Dallas Stars will finally re-take the ice tonight against the Winnipeg Jets having played the fewest number of games among all 30 NHL clubs. It's catch-up time in every sense of the word, particularly after Colorado's lightning quick start to the season.
The road trip represents the first conference game for the Stars after playing Florida and Washington on opening weekend, and what's more it's the first three games against Central Division opponents in Winnpeg, Minnesota, and Colorado.
Winnipeg has had mixed results early in the year. Shot totals of 33 and 28 saw them score five goals in each of their first two games en route to a 2-0-0 record. Since then they've fired 15 and 17 shots respectively in a pair of losses in which they scored just three goals combined.
So which Winnipeg team will the Stars see tonight?
The Stars only other trip to the MTS Center was two seasons ago when the Jets ended their incredible 10-0-1 streak by a score of 5-2, derailing the train in Glen Gulutzan's first season behind the bench. A four-goal second period for Winnipeg blew the doors off that one quickly. The Stars need a strong first period tonight to contain that crown.
Faceoff will be just after 7:00pm CDT tonight on Fox Sports Southwest with Ralph and Razor on the call.
Stars owner Tom Gaglardi is rumored to be in attendance tonight in Winnpeg.
Dallas may be 11-2-1 against the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise, but it's the most recent result on which they should focus. A new team coming off a long break with a lot of time to think things over might be tentative in the first period in Dallas. They'll have to play a smart road game in many respects to hang around in this one tonight.
The lines, if Thursday's practice is any indication, will be juggled following a win and a five day break. Rich Peverley might have just been too good on Saturday. The Stars' own Mark Stepneski reports lines from Thursday as these:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Rich Peverley
Ray Whitney-Cody Eakin-Alex Chiasson
Antoine Roussel-Shawn Horcoff-Erik Cole
Ryan Garbutt-Vernon Fiddler-Valeri Nichushkin
Alex Goligoski-Sergei Gonchar
Brenden Dillon-Stephane Robidas
Trevor Daley-Jordie Benn
Aaron Rome still looks to be about a week or ten days away, so the defense will continue on as is (was). The forwards are something different entirely, and the question is balance.
Those first two combinations look strong, offensively anyway- What of the combination of Roussel, Horcoff and Cole? A speedy trio for sure, but how they'll be used and what competition they'll face remains to be seen. The Cody Eakin line still has a lot to prove defensively, and we'll get a better idea of what they're thinking there after two more games in rapid fire coming up.
Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in Winnipeg Friday night. Presumably Dan Ellis would play in Minnesota Saturday night.
From Stars PR: "Dallas crosses the border into Canada for its first of 20 meetings against Canadian-based clubs this season. Since the start of the 2011-12 season, the Stars have gone 16-8-1 against Canadian teams and are 8-4-0 on the road, including a 3-1-0 mark in Canada last season."
Winnipeg struggled to possess the puck at even strength last night, but teams often will against a Minnesota squad allowing just 22 shots against per game in the early going. The Jets couldn't figure out the trap-like game plan of Mike Yeo's but could take advantage of the more wide-open style of Lindy Ruff's tonight.
"We don't start (with the puck) so we're always checking, chasing it down," Jets coach Claude Noel told media last night. "Regardless of which end, we're always checking.
"And you can see our puck-possession game isn't great," he continued. "The early games, we had decent puck possession from our own zone to break out through the neutral zone and then down the ice, but now we're getting stuck."
Winnipeg should run something out there tonight that resembles this...
Wheeler was dropped to the third line last night for a time in favor of Frolik, so that may continue into this one tonight.
The Stars have to worry about Kane, Wheeler, Ladd, Frolik, Little, and their old friend Devin Setoguchi, sure, but Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom have been nothing short of brilliant on the offensive end as a defensive pairing. Each has five assists through four games and lead the team in scoring.
Winnipeg has no significant injuries. Ondrej Pavelec could start the back-to-back, we'll update later. With a home game as the second night of a back-to-back the Jets were 0-1-0 last season.