The ascendant Dallas Stars finally hit a bit of a road block against the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night. A 4-2 regulation loss thanks to a sputtering power play makes it two in a row for Lindy Ruff's bunch- The inevitable lull after a sensational stretch the last three weeks.
That one hurt. Getting back on track against the Eastern Conference's 12th best team- At American Airlines Center, no less, would have been the ideal spot. Instead, now, they're left with trying to halt a would-be three-game skid against one of the league's very best teams in the Nashville Predators, and on the road.
Their struggles against the Central have been well documented here, and elsewhere- But the Stars, once breaking the proverbial seal, have collected five of the last six points available to them against their division foes.
Lindy Ruff, for his part, tried to keep things light in the aftermath Wednesday morning.
"We're looking for a warm-up. We do different things for a warm-up. You got to have some fun out there," Ruff told media after a tennis-ball scrimmage Wednesday. "We had them all play with the opposite hand, had the goalies out and a couple guys play goal. It's just kind of back to your roots of playing a little bit of ball hockey as a kid. They enjoy it. We're playing four games in six nights and just trying to keep it light."
Shawn Horcoff should be ready to return this evening, and you would imagine Kari Lehtonen would be back in the Stars' net for two points they really need.
Then there are the Preds.
The Predators, as a team, don't do anything particularly exciting. Their power play is pretty poor 14%. Their penalty kill is average. They give up an average number of shots per game at about 29.
They control play to the tune of a top-ten group at just over 50% Corsi, and overall they're not particularly disciplined, seeing the sixth most Corsi events (for and against) per 60 minutes.
They do lead the league in one category: PDO, at 102.5 (team shooting percentage + save percentage), a measure regarded by some as relating essentially to luck. That's thanks in large part to their team save percentage of 93.9%, also lead league leading.
And all of that leads us to the one part of the Nashville Predators that really does stick out: Pekka Rinne.
He leads the league in wins at 26, he's third in the league with a 2.00 GAA, and he's fourth with a .929 save percentage. And like the Stars' Kari Lehtonen, he's responsible for every single one of their wins to date. That's right, Predators backups have yet to start and win a game either.
That dominance by one man has led them to the league's second best best goal differential at +29.
On offense they're paced by Filip Forsberg at 38 points and 14 goals. Mike Ribeiro is close behind with 35 points, followed by Shea Weber at 26 and partner Roman Josie with 25.
James Neal (for which Google News still returns top search results on his having been the first NHL player ever fined for diving) has missed three games with a lower body injury, but could be set to return this evening. Check back after morning skates.
Their lineup of late:
Since the Stars saw them last, the Predators got Mike Fisher back from his preseason injury and cast former Dallas Star Derek Roy aside , first to waivers, then eventually trading him to Edmonton for forward Arcobello.
Dallas is winless against the Predators this season (0-2-0) and must face them a total of five times. That's ten of the 164 points available this season- They must find a way to collect some points in these three remaining matchups.
From Stars PR:
PREDATOR OR PREY?
The Stars travel to Nashville to face off against the Predators on Thursday in the third of five contests scheduled between the two clubs this season. Dallas is looking for its first win over the Predators in the 2014-15 campaign as the team is 0-2-0 against them so far this season. Defenseman Trevor Daley shares the team-lead with two points (1-1=2) in two games against Nashville this season, and comes into Thursday's tilt with four points (2-2=4) in his last four games, and five (2-3=5) in his last six against them. Stars forward Antoine Roussel also shares the team-lead against the Predators, earning points in back-to-back games against them this season (1-1=2). Roussel enters Thursday's contest in Nashville with points in three of his last four games against them (1-2=3).