Three in a row. Signs of offensive life. A finger nail on the last wild card playoff spot when play finished Thursday night.
The Dallas Stars are trying their best to finish 2016 where they started it- Winning hockey games.
Tonight the Florida Panthers take their turn after the Stars dismissed the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 4-2 Thursday night. Cody Eakin returned from a suspension, and now it appears someone else could be coming back as well.
Signs at practice Friday pointed to Patrick Sharp making his long awaited return after another extended absence from complications of a concussion.
"I think anytime you can put a Sharp back, a healthy Sharp, back in the lineup, you know your lineup's going to get better," Lindy Ruff said Friday of putting him back in after three wins in a row.
"When you're rolling along, you don't like changes. But at the same time, we've got a good player that's coming back into the lineup."
Speaking of concussions, Kari Lehtonen was motionless on the ice for a period of time most would deem uncomfortable Thursday night. That led him to be led off the ice to enter the concussion protocol, but the next day he was being called "100%".
Antti Niemi had a tough job to do coming in cold like that with the Avs pressing and surrendered one on a rebound but held his own after that. It will be interesting to see where Ruff goes after the brief flirtation with the organization's depth at the position in Cedar Park- It's not much.
Antoine Roussel is getting close but isn't ready. Brett Ritchie could come out for Sharp. McKenzie? Korpikoski? I know I am mentioning guys who lined up on the left on Thursday but Eaves is going nowhere and Cracknell had a pretty good looking outing. It'lll play itself out.
The Ruffling will commence.
As for the Panthers, you'll hear a lot about how bad they are. Which is fair. They're near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. They're also just one pointsw of the Stars' pace, and hey they're in a playoff spot!
Like the Stars, they've also earned points in six of their last seven outings. So things are not that bad. And Jagr.
Comparing them to the Stars gets even more appropriate in this next part- They've lost three straight overtime games heading into this one, and eight overall. Seven of those overtime losses, get this, have been in their last 15 games. That hurts. Stars fans would know.
So they're in the same funk- An alarmingly same looking funk. They're right there. They're not getting scored on a ton. They're losing in overtime, and like the Stars, they just can't score enough.
Their last seven goal totals: 3, 2, 3, 1, 3, 3, 3, 1. They had a stretch back late November where they scored seven totals goals in a six-game span. Just like the Stars, the offense just hasn't been there for them and they've slipped because of it.
Florida got out-shot 41-33 by Montreal Thursday but hung 47(!!) shots on the Leafs in their outing before that, also putting 44 on Winnipeg, 42 on Vancouver, and 44 on Philadelphia- And that's all been in the month of December. They like to shoot.
Meaning their shooting percentage is probably due for a bit of a market correction. Let's hope it's more of a 2017 kind of thing.
To say their roster hosts some familiar faces would be an understatement. Former Dallas Stars Jaromir Jagr, Jason Demers, Reilly Smith, Jussi Jokinen, and Colton Sceviour all grace the Panther lineup.
The guys you have to watch out for, in addition to Jagr, however, are Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, and Jonathan Marchessault, who do the lions share of their scoring when they management. The lines-
Reilly Smith is out with an injury as is Jonathan Huberdeau, and, surprise, so is Barkov who was placed newly on IR yesterday.
Enjoy New Years Eve no matter the outcome, but please do be safe out there tonight. As my mother always told me, be on "condition yellow" (Hi Mom!)
From Stars PR, who killed it this game:
"IT'S MADE WITH BITS OF REAL PANTHER, SO YOU KNOW IT'S GOOD"The Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers meet on New Year's Eve for the first of two matchups this season. Dallas has won four-straight games (4-0-0) on the last day of the calendar year and has a 12-4-2 record on New Year's Eve since the club moved to Dallas prior to the 1993-94 season. Last year, the Stars defeated the Predators, 5-1, on Dec. 31, 2015. Dallas has won three of the last four meetings (3-1-0) against Florida. In the most recent meeting at American Airlines Center on Oct. 24, 2015, the Panthers defeated the Stars, 6-2. Captain Jamie Benn (2-0=2) and forward Tyler Seguin (0-2=2) each recorded multi-point games. Forward Jason Spezza leads all Stars players with 35 points (11-24=35) in 43 career games against the Panthers.
HE'S A SPEZZ-CIAL PLAYERForward Jason Spezza recorded two assists (0-2=2) with a season-best +3 plus/minus rating on Thursday against the Avalanche and has points in four consecutive games (2-5=7), with 11 points (3-8=11) over his last 10 games. His four-game point streak is his best of the season and his longest since he had points in six-straight games (7-1=8) from March 1 - 12, 2016. Spezza ranks third on the team with 22 points (7-15=22) and is tied for the club-lead with two game-winning goals this season. He is third on the Stars with 175 faceoff wins, going 175-of-330 (53.0%) from the dot. The native of Toronto, Ont. has two points (1-1=2) in four games against Florida wearing a Stars sweater. In 43 career games against the Panthers, Spezza has 35 points (11-24=35).