The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement-mandated bye week for the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche is over.
Both teams have not played a game since last Saturday, so shaking off the rust of vacation should not be an excuse for either team tonight. It also means we might be in for a game in which both teams have to find their legs, and could result in some not-so-pretty hockey. The team that gets off to the best start is likely going to be the one that wins the game.
Each team has been hot in their own way of late. The Avalanche will bring a five game winning streak to the American Airlines Center. The Stars are dominant on home ice (16-5-1) and will look to win their last game of a home stand that has seen them collect 80% of the points available to them so far before hitting the road for a swing of games against Eastern Conference teams.
With the last six days away from the ice, the Stars have managed to maintain their hold of the first wild card position in the Western Conference, though the margin of that lead has shrunk. The Chicago Blackhawks are just one point behind them, with one more game played. However, the Stars are also now within striking distance of third in the Central Division, sitting four points behind the St. Louis Blues with three games in hand. The Avalanche sit four points behind the Stars with two games in hand, and are only three points away from a playoff position themselves.
The Central Division is going to be a tightrope walk from now until the end of the season. Every point, every missed chance to collect them, will feel magnified because of how close the teams are to one another. Divisional matchups are big four-point games, and both Dallas and Colorado will be hungry to come out on top tonight and set the tone for their stretch-run.
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Mattias Janmark - Martin Hanzal - Jason Spezza
Remi Elie - Devin Shore - Brett Ritchie / Gemel Smith
News out of practice yesterday was that defenseman Marc Methot will miss two weeks after having a procedure on his knee (the same one that sidelined him for six weeks earlier this season). Luckily for the Stars, the defense has been humming along of late, so they’re not going to have to throw in someone that hasn’t played with the unit in a while. They’ll call up a seventh blueliner for the upcoming road trip, but for tonight, the Stars will roll the same top six they’ve been using these last few weeks:
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Julius Honka - Stephen Johns
Ben Bishop will get his 10th start in a row when he takes the pipes tonight. Kari Lehtonen, who will back him up, last started a game on December 15th when the Stars lost to the New Jersey Devils on the road. He’s likely going to see game action next week when the Stars take on the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings on a back-to-back on the road.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
A.J. Greer - Alex Kerfoot - Nail Yakupov
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau
Colin Wilson - Tyson Jost - Gabriel Bourque
Nikita Zadorov - Erik Johnson
Samuel Girard - Anton Lindholm
Patrik Nemeth - Mark Barberio
Jonathan Bernier will start in net for the Avalanche, who will be without their key starter, Semyon Varlamov, for a few more weeks. Varlamov is nursing a groin injury. Bernier has been stellar for the Avalanche over the last four games he’s played in. He’s averaging 1.25 goals against and has posted a 0.957 save percentage during that stretch.