The Dallas Stars began a critical home stand Tuesday night with a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the league's 30th ranked offense in the Nashville Predators, and the going only gets tougher with arguably the league's hottest team in the form of the Anaheim Ducks visiting the American Airlines Center tonight.
Dallas is trying to shake consecutive regulation losses off tonight (Phoenix, Nashville) without their best player in Jamie Benn, and likely their captain Brenden Morrow.
"We've got to play with pace and we've got to get our nose dirty against them because they're a big strong team that has skill," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said of Anaheim Wednesday. "I think the way we got out to an early start last time and we came out hard at them and used our speed and quickness against some of their D, I think that's going to be key for us. We need to be ready early, get on them early."
The big news in Anaheim, of course, is the four-game suspension of forward Corey Perry following a hit on Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker Tuesday night.
According to the NHL Perry will lose $115,135.12 in salary to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
While that may be the headline surrounding the Ducks this week, the real story is what's happening on the ice as they endeavor to catch the Chicago Blackhawks atop the league standings. They're an incredible 12-1-2 since their regulation loss at Dallas on February 8th.
From Stars PR: "Dallas boasts an overall record of 5-2-0 so far this season against the Pacific Division, including a 4-0-0 record at the American Airlines Center. The Stars enter Thursday's tilt having won seven of their last eight divisional matchups on home ice, dating back to last season."
The puck drops tonight at American Airlines Center at 7:30pm CDT on Fox Sports Southwest.
Dallas has seen their place in the standings decline to 11th in recent days, but still have more regulation/overtime wins than SIX of the teams ahead of them, yet no games in hand. Points are king, and the teams that have been collecting them in losing efforts after 60-65 minutes, or else just surviving to the skills contest are reaping the rewards right now.
Jamie Benn is doubtful for tonight's game, while Brenden Morrow is only a slightly more encouraging questionable. That leaves the line combinations in doubt, and though they did not produce a goal against Nashville, they'll probably remain the same tonight, though subject to change.
"We'll probably keep the lines the same," Gulutzan said Wednesday, "go at it again and tomorrow will be a bit of a tighter leash to see whether or not we change things."
So pending final the final prognoses of Benn and Morrow we'll tentatively expect the forward lines to start off as they did Tuesday...
Defense was not discussed Wednesday afternoon. There's a possibility that Philip Larsen could return in the stead of Jordie Benn or Jamie Oleksiak, as he's been healthy and available for the last two contests. Stay tuned after morning skate for more.
Kari Lehtonen will be in net.
Without Cory Perry (24 points in 25 games) the Ducks lose their second leading scorer on the roster for this one, but the Stars know that it matters not after the Predators notched four here Tuesday night with Hornqvist and Wilson.
The other big news for Anaheim was that Viktor Fasth suffered an upper-body injury Tuesday during morning skate and did not dress againt Minnesota.
So the Ducks may have to deal with life without Fasth tonight, but that's not a problem. Jonas Hiller had a shaky start to the year but is now 6-0-1 in his past seven starts with a .931 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against average, which isn't surprising. A team needs two strong goaltenders to accumulate points in 21 of 24 games, as the Stars have found out the hard way.
Hiller has stopped 77 of the last 80 shots he's faced (.963) and the Ducks overall have allowed only three total goals in their last four games (0.75 per), two of which were power play tallies. They're simply not getting scored on right now, and that's powered them to a 6-0-2 record over their last eight games.
Anaheim has held opponents to two or fewer goals in 15 of their 24 games this season.
Their offense is still the star of their show, however. Only Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh score at a better clip. The Ducks put four on the Coyotes in back-to-back games recently, four on the Blues and five on the Predators - No easy tasks. They boast the league's best 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio, and the league's top power play at 26.7%, showcasing strength in every area of their game.
The Ducks ran these lines at practice yesterday...
Nick Bonino is out (lower body). Corey Perry is suspended. Palmieri has been out, but is expected back in the lineup for this one. Viktor Fasth did not practice yesterday, but said he was feeling better.
Jonas Hiller should be in net.