There doesn’t seem to be a lot of breathing room in the Central Division these days.
It seems like every time you turn around, the rest of the division is winning games at a clip similar to Dallas’ decent stretch of late. The Colorado Avalanche have won 10 straight games to pull within one point of the Dallas Stars and cling to the second Wild Card spot in the standings (as of today, at least).
Dallas, the Nashville Predators, and the Winnipeg Jets are all 7-2-1 in their last 10. The Minnesota Wild are right behind at 6-2-2 — and they’re still second to last in the division. The St. Louis Blues seem to be riding their great start to maintain third in the Central recording only a 5-4-1 record in their last 10. The Chicago Blackhawks, last in the Division, are 4-5-1 in their last 10, and find themselves seven points out of a playoff position — by no means out of the playoff picture, either.
So it seems that the goal for the rest of the season will be to just keep winning so that the Stars control their own destinies for the playoffs in one of the tightest divisions in the league.
They’ll look to take advantage of their great winning record versus teams in the East when they take on the Florida Panthers tonight. Jason Dickinson will draw into the lineup after news came down that Martin Hanzal is not ready to go yet — and will likely not be 100% healthy for the rest of the season.
Without lines at an optional morning skate this morning, it’s unclear what the lines might be, but if I had to guess I imagine they’ll look something like this:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Remi Elie - Jason Spezza - Mattias Janmark
Devin Shore - Jason Dickinson - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Dillon Heatherington - Stephen Johns
Ben Bishop will get the start in net.
The Florida Panthers may be sitting on the outside of the playoff picture in the East, but they’ve not counted out yet either. The Panthers are a little like the Stars were prior to their last road trip: they have a losing record on the road. They’ve been .500 versus the Central Division, but overall haven’t had great success against the West. Dallas just went 3-0-1 versus Eastern Conference opponents, and they’ll be hungry to collect points tonight against a Florida team that appears to be struggling to figure out just who they are consistently.
The expected Panthers lineup should be something similar to this:
Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov -- Evgenii Dadonov
Connor Brickley -- Vincent Trocheck -- Radim Vrbata
Jamie McGinn -- Jared McCann -- Nick Bjugstad
Micheal Haley -- Derek MacKenzie -- Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle -- Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson -- Mark Pysyk
MacKenzie Weegar -- Alexander Petrovic
James Reimer will start in net as Roberto Luongo remains injured.