The Dallas Stars hope the objects in their rearview mirror aren't really closer than they appear. They're looming quite large back there these days after a continuing free-fall that's seen the team lose seven of their last eight outings.
*Written before the conclusion of Devils/Predators Thursday night.
Objects like those Nashville Predators that so thoroughly bested them two nights ago. At 75 points and a game less played, they're charging hard to knock the Stars to a wild card spot.
Dallas has 17 games remaining to find the game they've lost, but have to do so in a brutal stretch of schedule in March that seems them face the Senators, Blackhawks, Blues, Islanders, Coyotes, Kings, Predators and Sharks.
All teams that have been defeated the Stars. And thoroughly. The Sens dropped seven on them. The Islanders six. The Blackhawks five. the Coyotes six. The Predators that drubbing the other night. The Sharks have scored an average of 3.5 against them this season.
It's a gauntlet with their blood already in the surrounding metaphorical waters.
And it got that much harder with some tough news Thursday at practice.
Patrick Sharp out 5-7 days. Jordie Benn 1-2 weeks. Both lower body.— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) March 3, 2016
Combine it with Patrick Eaves probably missing another game or two and it's a big challenge for Ruff's group that's already struggling to rediscover their former selves.
"Sharp has been battling," Ruff told media "He's been battling his situation most of the year. Just got to a point where we're going to treat it and going to shut him down for a few days. Hopefully he'll be ready once we get back from the road trip."
Jordie Benn's absence takes a right shot from the defense, so Ruff had Alex Goligoski possibly with a younger defenseman on the third pairing (Nemeth in practice), with Kris Russell up with John Klingberg. The minute-distribution of such a configuration will be something to keep an eye on- It's certanly a big shakeup on a shaken unit to add on top of the trade.
Lines were these Thursday-
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Colton Sceviour
Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ales Hemsky
Radek Faksa-Vernon Fiddler-Travis Moen
Brett Ritchie has been re-called to give the team some options, and it's a tough time of year to get hit by this for the Texas Stars.
Then there are the New Jersey Devils and a bit of bad news there- The Stars have struggled mightily against bottom-of-the-barrel competition this year and it was no exception against these Devils on January 2nd as Dallas dropped a 3-2 decision up north.
New Jersey is five points out of the second wildcard spot in the East at 67 points- Chasing the Penguins at 72 with two fewer games to play.
Like the Stars they seem to be moving in the wrong direction and precisely the wrong time, losing six of their last seven in regulation, and it's their offense that's really sputtered of late.
The Devils have recorded just two goals total over the course of their last nine periods played- Two of those games at home.
From Stars PR:
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
The Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils meet for the second and final time of the 2015-16 campaign. The Stars are 6-1-1 over the last eight games against the Devils at American Airlines Center and have points in three-straight home games (2-0-1) against them. In the first game of the season series on Jan. 2 at Prudential Center, the Devils defeated the Stars, 3-2, in overtime. Dallas rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the second period to force overtime and gain a point against New Jersey, with forward Patrick Sharp (1-0=1) and forward Colton Sceviour (1-0=1) each netting goals for Dallas.
OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN
Stars captain Jamie Benn tallied an assist (0-1=1) against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night and now has points in five of his last seven games (3-4=7). The captain ranks second in the NHL with 71 points (32-39=71), shares third with 32 goals and ranks third in the League with 14 power play goals. On home ice this season, Benn ranks second in the NHL with 22 goals and shares third with 40 points (22-18=40). He has points in five of his last seven games (2-3=5) at American Airlines Center. In 11 career games against the Devils, Benn has four points (2-2=4).