The Dallas Stars' struggles in their own barn this 2014-2015 season have been well documented in this and other spaces. After knocking off the Penguins Thursday night the Stars dominated the Chicago Blackhawks to the tune of 4-0 Saturday night - and then gave the fans a little salute at center ice in celebration.
"I think that's awesome," head coach Lindy Ruff remarked after the game. "I think we've got a great group of guys and there's been some heartbreak in this building. The last couple of games have been a little bit of payback with the building full and the energy here and quite a few Chicago fans."
And so the test comes this evening - can they continue to build on that momentum when the building doesn't sound contentious and playoff-like? The Buffalo Sabres, commonly known as the worst team in the league, enter tonight. Intensity is not likely to be the name of the game in the building, and yet the Stars must respond with the same desperation they've exhibited in winning seven of their last nine.
Kari Lehtonen should likely start given that he enters off a shutout. Ryan Garbutt could continue to see his playing team usurped by others, and the defense should continue to look as it has. They've done a lot of good, and have precious few games left with which to make an impact.
Meanwhile...the Sabres are not to be trusted.
Buffalo had lost 16 of their last 17 games heading into their February 7th tilt with the Dallas Stars. 16 of 17. What that looks like, no one in Texas could say. That kind of futility is not heard of in these parts, no matter how bad things have been in the last six years or so.
And yet, losers of 16 of 17, the Sabres jumped on the Stars and handed them their arguably most embarrassing loss of the season by the score of 3-2 despite the fact that the Stars out-shot them 40-24.
This time around they've lost nine of their last ten - but have received attention for former Stars' netminder Anders Lindback's recent exploits, including a 44-save win against the Boston Bruins- On the road, no less.
On the subject of the road: The Sabres have not been good there. They've been downright abysmal against the league's better conference, earning a single win on the road in the West against the San Jose Sharks. Altogether they've scored a total of 15 goals in 11 Western Conference road games. Which is not good.
That may have something to do with the fact that they're the league's worst offensive team by a considerable margin with a 1.76 goals-per-game average, and the league's worst power play at 11.7%. They just don't score much in any mode.
There are some who feel that Buffalo would prefer to finish last in the league-
Buffalo promotes a chicken to its first line. RT @reporterchris: Connor McDavid's final OHL regular season ends with 120 points in 47 games.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) March 22, 2015
This, at any rate, is how they configure their lines - which includes noted Dallas serial-murderer Matt Moulson:
Zach Bogosian is questionable. Evander Kane, newly acquired from the Winnipeg Jets, is slated to be out with a shoulder injury.
LEHT THERE BE LIGHT!
Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen turned aside all 33 shots he faced on Saturday night en route to his fifth shutout of the season. Lehtonen has now posted 32 career shutouts, 18 of which have come in a Stars sweater. The native of Helsinki, Finland currently shares seventh in the NHL with 31 wins this season, and is now just three victories away from matching a career high. Lehtonen has now reached the 30-win plateau four times in the last five seasons, and is one of just two NHL goaltenders to have done so, joining Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury. The 31-year-old goaltender has now earned wins in five of his last six games (5-1=0), posting a 1.50 GAA and a .940 SV% over that span.