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Stars, Blue Jackets Heading In Different Directions As They Faceoff Tonight

One team is hot and the other kind of is not right now.

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NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars will be backstopped by their starter Ben Bishop tonight. Bishop pitched a shutout on New Year’s Eve against the San Jose Sharks, and tonight will mark his seventh consecutive start. It’s a bit of an anomaly for Stars fans to see a bona fide starter that takes the lion’s share of games, as the duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi were platooned out in a 1A/1B style the last few seasons.

It’s understandable to give Bishop a number of games as the starter. But that may not be the only reason for the recent string of starts.

Bishop has been on fire of late. In his last six games, he has a goals against average of just 2.00, a save percentage of 93.2% (12 goals on 177 shots faced in that time frame), and two shutouts. He’s got a hot hand right now, and with the Stars needing points to help climb up the Central Division standings, most coaches would roll with it until the schedule, or the player himself, dictated otherwise. He’s used to a heavy workload, too, seeing over 60 starts as the starter for the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2013 to 2016.

That’s not the only thing that’s been working for the Stars in that stretch.

Over the past six games, the Stars have posted a 3.67 goals per game average, failing to score three goals just once in that time frame (a loss to the Minnesota Wild right after Christmas break). The power play has scored a goal in all six of those contests, going 6-for-22 (27% conversion), and the penalty kill has allowed just two goals against (good for an 89% kill rate, or 16 out of 18 shorthanded chances against).

It’s safe to say that everything is rolling well for the Stars right now.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are a study in contrasts for the Stars, as they roll into town having lost six of their past eight games (2-4-2). While Dallas is relatively healthy, the Blue Jackets are missing four of their heavy lifters: blueliner Ryan Murray is out with an upper body injury, they’re missing two centers - Brandon Dubinsky (fractured orbital bone) and Alexander Wennberg (back), and one of their top forwards, Cam Atkinson, has a fractured foot. All are on injured reserve and not available tonight.

Columbus head coach John Tortorella has made adjustments to the way the Blue Jackets are expected to play starting tonight. He has decided to try to reign in the aggressive style of play they were trying to employ, likely as a result of the key injuries the team has right now. I’d expect them to try to be more structured and focused on shutting down the Stars’ offense.

With the Stars playing a bit more aggressively on offense of late, with more plays where they’ve carried the puck into the zone over a chip and chase style, it will be interesting to see if they can take advantage of a team that is adjusting on the fly like this — or if they’ll get bogged down by a slower pace.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Defensemen Marc Methot, who had his knee scoped about six weeks ago, was expected to be ready to go tonight. However, news from morning skate indicates that he’s not quite ready to go. That means that the defensive pairings will stay the same as it has the last stretch of games. The only change in the lineup will be the insertion of Jason Dickinson in place of Remi Elie, as Elie is battling the flu.

Here’s the expected lines for the Stars:

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Devin Shore
Mattias Janmark - Martin Hanzal - Alexander Radulov
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Jason Dickinson - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Stephen Johns - Julius Honka

Bishop in net.

Columbus Blue Jackets Lineup

Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Nick Foligno
Sonny Milano - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Matt Calvert - Lukas Sedlak - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Tyler Motte - Zac Dalpe - Markus Hannikainen/Jordan Schroeder

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Jack Johnson

Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start.