The Dallas Stars have taken some strong steps forward this season. They've been typically followed by a step or two back, however. The end result? Losing 17 of 27 to start the year.
Another strong step forward was taken in Saturday's 4-1 win over a good Montreal squad, just their second three-goal margin of victory this season, and now once again they'll seek that consistency that has thoroughly eluded them as the Winnipeg Jets come calling.
They've been quite the surprise (one of many in the Central), but Lindy Ruff isn't going to worry about what they're doing as he vows to keep the focus internal.
"I am really just focused in on making sure we take another step forward," Ruff told media Monday. "They've got good speed, they've got a couple of young defensemen who can hammer the puck and make plays, but every team has good players. I want our guys to play the right way, and I'm going to spend more time on that."
One would expect a player like Ales Hemsky to return after a healthy scratch Saturday, but that may not be so after such good energy against Montreal.
"I'm going to leave Sceves there and I'm probably going to leave McKenzie there," Ruff said Monday, possibly leaving the top-six like this:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Colton Sceviour
Curtis McKenzie-Jason Spezza-Erik Cole
Alex Goligoski took a maintenance day as he continues to battle the bumps and bruises of an NHL season, so defensive pairings looked like this in practice:
Jyrki Jokipakka (Goligoski)-Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn-Jason Demers
Jamie Oleksiak-John Klingberg
Kari Lehtonen will most likely do battle with the franchise that begat him.
That franchise was not supposed to be much trouble for the Dallas Stars this season. At least, on paper. Nearly 30 games into the season the exact opposite is true.
Winnipeg sits quite comfortably ahead of Dallas- Eight points ahead, and just four behind the division leading Chicago Blackhawks and third place in the Western Conference.
It won't last, you say? Their possession numbers are better than Dallas' (see war-on-ice.com), their goal differential (even) is 16 better than Dallas, their power play isn't propping them up (13.0%, 27th in the league), and they don't have abnormally high shooting or save percentages that will regress to a mean.
No, they're doing it the right way, which should scare you if you're a Stars fan. They simply keep pucks out of their net. They're 4th in the league, allowing just 2.21 goals against per game to Dallas' league-worst 3.48.
And oh yeah, they're a very good road team, collecting points in 11 of their first 15 away from MTS Centre (8-4-3), including wins in Chicago, Long Island, New York and Phoenix. Their defense is even better on the road than that overall 2.21 GA/G. On the road they surrender only 1.93 on average.
Any way you slice it, they appear to be a very solid team, and yet another hurdle for the Stars to clear if they're to eventually get back anywhere near the playoff race.
Then there's that other stat that may trump anything else: They're a Central Division opponent, and against those the Stars are 0-6-3...The only team in hockey without a division win.
They'll be without Evander Kane this evening after the forward was suspended two games for a dangerous hit on Clayton Stoner Sunday afternoon, but that hardly lessens the threat against Dallas' defense, as he ranks just 7th in Winnipeg scoring.
The big guns for the Jets are Andrew Ladd (21 points), Blake Wheeler (20), and Bryan Little (19)- 29 goals between the three of them.
Yes, that's Adam Pardy, who's seen action in 16 games for Winnipeg this season.
In net they have Ondrej Pavelec handling a starter's workload (9-8-3), but Michael Hutchinson as a backup with absolutely stellar numbers (5-1-2, .943 SV%, 1.62 GAA), and either could go tonight.
They're having all of this success, by the way, with Zach Bogosian (lower body) and Toby Enstrom (lower body) out on defense, and Grant Clitsome is questionable, which is why Byfuglien is back on the blue line for the time being.
Fox Sports Southwest PLUS tonight on the TV side.
From Stars PR:
The Stars square off against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night in the first of four contests between the Central Division rivals. Dallas posted a 3-1-1 record against the Jets last season, with a 1-0-1 mark against them at home. The Stars come into Tuesday's contest with points in eight of their last 10 games against Winnipeg (6-2-2), and are 3-0-1 against them at American Airlines Center since the start of the 2008-09 season when the team was still the Atlanta Thrashers. Forward Tyler Seguin led the Stars with 10 points (6-4=10) in five games against the Jets last season. Seguin comes into Tuesday's game riding a three-game point streak against them (4-2=6), and has earned 14 points (8-6=14) in 15 career games.