The Dallas Stars enjoyed the merriest of three-day holiday breaks after dispatching the Chicago Blackhawks with an authoritative air on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center. They sit atop the heap as play resume, but their most dangerous foe returns now for a pair of critical "four-point" games.
The St. Louis Blues got the best of the Stars in round one and now gets them in a back-to-back situation (as they do in all five meetings this season) with a chance to turn an eight-point deficit into just four.
Dallas is in the middle of a "five of six" stretch against the Central Division having already dispatched Chicago and Minnesota earlier in the week. There are eight points more available to add to their considerable pile of 54 before the calendar turns to January at the season's mid-point.
The St. Louis Blues don't seem to play well with a lead, if you read their press clippings. They blew a 3-0 lead to the Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the week and lost 4-3.
"It's difficult to play when you have the lead," Hitchcock told media Wednesday. "The team is pressing, the other team has got a sense of urgency and your discipline with the puck really gets challenged. That's the part that has probably not been as good this year as we'd hoped. That's something that we're trying to get back to, where we are more structured and disciplined with the puck."
They've blown a number of leads except for the one most relevant to this one tonight- They did not have any trouble shutting down the Stars 3-0 when last these teams met after jumping out to a first-period lead.
St. Louis dropped both games to Philadelphia recently both home and away, but outside of those are 6-1-0 stretching back a couple of weeks with the only other loss coming to the Colorado Avalanche- Something the Stars too must be wary of in the future.
The Stars found out how their power play can strike and will need to be wary of it again tonight as it's red hot, scoring on five of their last eight chances. Oddly the Blues have earned just nine chances on the job in their last six games.
On the other side of the coin they didn't allow the Bruins a single power play on Tuesday night and only gave the Flyers three, so they've been pretty low event on special teams. The Stars failed to score last time in St. Louis on four chances, a run during which the Blues killed 21 straight over the course of nine contests.
Despite their propensity for defense they've allowed over 32 shots per game over their last four. The trick will be to find a way through Jake Allen, who shut out the Bruins Tuesday, gave only on to the Predators on the 17th, and shutout the Stars on the 12th.
Their lineup, or something like it-
Tarasenko has played 10 career games against Dallas. He has 10 points, seven of them goals in those contests and is a +6. Can they finally stop him today? In 72 career games against the Central division he has recorded 68 points- He's at his best against divisional competition.
From Stars PR:
The Dallas Stars meet the St. Louis Blues for a home-and-home back-to-back series in the second and third matchups of the 2015-16 season. This marks the first home-and-home series in a back-to-back against the same opponent since the 2013-14 season when the Stars faced the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 16 (at Colorado, L, 2-6) and Dec. 17, 2013 (vs. Colorado, W 3-2). Dallas plays their Central Division rival three times during the month of December, with two of those games taking place at Scottrade Center. The Blues took the first meeting of the season, 3-0, on Dec. 14 in St. Louis with Blues goaltender Jake Allen stopping all 26 shots faced. Dallas has collected points in four of their last six meetings against St. Louis at American Airlines Center (2-2-2).
SHARP DRESSED MAN
Stars forward Patrick Sharp registered two points (1-1=2) against the Blackhawks on Tuesday night and now has points in three straight games (2-3=5). Tuesday's contest marked the first time that Sharp had faced his old club during the regular season since being acquired by Dallas via trade on July 10, 2015. With his goal against Chicago, Sharp has now scored a goal against all 30 NHL clubs. The native of Winnipeg, Man. ranks fourth on the Stars in points (27), goals (12) and assists (15). Over the course of his NHL career, Sharp has skated in 56 career games against the Blues and has recorded 41 points (15-26=41).