The Central Division eats its own and does it with dispatch, so keeping up is not an option but a necessity. Since December 27, the Chicago Blackhawks have made up 11 of the 13 points that separated them from the MDK-leading Dallas Stars and will have a chance to scoop up the last two against the dramatically slumping Montreal Canadiens tonight at 6:30 p.m. Central time.
But the Stars return to the ice on Friday, and with two games in hand as of Friday, they intend to get back to their dominant ways against the Anaheim Ducks in Honda Center, says head coach Lindy Ruff:
"I think we all understand that the Central Division has some good teams," Ruff said. "You don't win all those Cups, in Chicago's case, and don't expect them not to be closing the gap. They are a team that will have to be dealt with.
"For us, we've struggled a little bit of late, and we've got to get our game moving. We can only worry about how we play. The teams around us, the only thing we can do is when we play them is make sure we do our part. Right now, we've got to go out and win a road game."
A weary John Klingberg took a maintenance day for extra rest and recovery from the Stars' punishing post-Christmas schedule. Meanwhile, Jordie Benn is ready to play again after a lower-body injury that took him out of the Stars' last two games.
"I played a couple of weeks with it. It was just something I was fighting through for a while," Benn said. "It was one of those things where we've got two fresh d-men who can step in and do the job and Lindy and I thought it was time that I take a little break."
Also skating on Wednesday: Ales Hemsky, who practiced at right wing on a second line with Mattias Janmark and Jason Spezza. Hemsky, too, is expected to play on Friday.
The rest of Mark's report is at the Stars website. [Stars Inside Edge]
The Dallas Morning News has collected some highlights from Tyler Seguin's visit to BaD Radio on Tuesday. Read his thoughts on hockey heckling, fake teeth and playing Powerball. [SportsDayDFW]
If Melissa's social-media recap of Stars Casino Night hasn't already left you kicking yourself over missing it, Jason Demers and Antoine Roussel are here to finish the job.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Bruce LeVine and Josh Bogorad devoted the latest edition of "Rapid-Fire" to a midseason update. Bask a little. You deserve it.
Wednesday was #MurderDeathKill free. Tonight, not so much. Here's the schedule:
- Chicago Blackhawks at Montreal Canadiens (6:30 p.m. Central time)
- St. Louis Blues vs. Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. Central time)
- Nashville Predators at Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. Central time)
- Colorado Avalanche vs. New Jersey Devils (8 p.m. Central time)
In other Thursday night action, Zack Kassian will make his return to NHL ice with the Edmonton Oilers and hopes to make the most of his second chance after a stint in the league's substance-abuse program. [Edmonton Journal]
A brutally inert game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets was a perfect example of how the NHL's new Dead Puck Era is ruining the sport, writes Ken Campbell, who wonders why more teams can't just be like the Stars. [The Hockey News]
Welcome to the pack, Kevin Connauton! Connauton will wear sweater #44. pic.twitter.com/eF6ci5Rtvg— Yotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) January 13, 2016
And to make room for him, they've sent John Scott to their AHL team, the Springfield Falcons – although the Pacific Division's All-Star captain should be back in Glendale in plenty of time to be eligible to play in Nashville. (Has this entire situation just reached peak troll? Stay tuned.)
Parting with Seth Jones, even in exchange for Ryan Johansen, was one of the hardest things Nashville GM David Poile has ever done. What really made this trade possible was the advent of another Predators defender: the relatively unheralded Ryan Ellis. [Sports Illustrated]
Also in SI: Allan Muir has compiled a list of the NHL players most likely to be moved before the 2016 trade deadline. [SI]
Which leaves him demonstrably better off than Devils forward Bobby Farnham, who received a four-game suspension for interference against the Blues' Dmitrij Jaskin on the same night.
Raffi Torres' record suspension has come to an end, and the Sharks have wasted no time in getting him back into the line-up.
Add one more item to the things Patrik Nemeth and Antoine Roussel have in common: two of the most popular numbers in the NHL. See which numbers players flock to, and compare with the ones that hang in the AAC's rafters. [BarDown]
Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk has apologized to the team for the "distraction" of his girlfriend's arrest after she allegedly punched him in the face and left him bloodied during a domestic dispute. Jen Neale asks some questions that may have occurred to you as well. [Puck Daddy]
Take a second to think about how this story would have been covered had he been the one to punch his girlfriend in the face. Why is he not afforded the same respect as the victim instead of the perpetrator?
Finally: You already know Roussel as a walking, talking, Francophone harbinger of good times, but high-school students from the Frisco Independent School District had the chance to experience it as part of their French-language studies last week. Bien fait, Rooster.