The Dallas Stars haven’t had much success in the win column lately. On Wednesday, they managed to snap a six-game losing streak with a 3-0 shutout win over the Florida Panthers. They proceeded to celebrate by blowing a late two goal lead in a 3-2 loss to the Panthers that very next night.
At 6-5-4, the Stars sit squarely in sixth place in the Central Division with just 16 points in 15 games. No team has played less than Dallas, but even in terms of point percentage, the Stars (.533) are still only in fifth place, behind the Chicago Blackhawks (.619) for the fourth and final playoff spot. Dallas needs to start banking points up again fast, starting with their first game against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight.
The last time these two teams faced off, it ended with Steven Stamkos parading the Stanley Cup above his head in the Edmonton bubble. Since then, the Lightning have continued looking the part of a Stanley Cup favorite — their 27 points in 18 games is fourth in the league, second in the Central behind Florida. In terms of point percentage, Tampa Bay (.750) is second only to the Toronto Maple Leafs (.762).
Their success is in large part due to goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has been outstanding so far this season. His .935 SV% and 71 GA% rank second in the NHL behind Marc-Andre Fleury among goaltenders with at least 10 games played, and his 11.67 GSAA leads the lot. He is on track to post the best numbers of his seven year NHL career, one which already includes a Vezina Trophy and two third-place finishes.
Vasilevskiy’s performance will spell trouble for the Stars, who — as everyone is well aware of by now — have trouble putting the puck in the net. Not to mention they’ll have to work hard for offensive zone time to begin with — Nikita Kucherov may be out due to injury, but the Tampa Bay offense is still star-studded with forwards Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point as well as defenseman Victor Hedman, who leads the team in points with 19.
It’ll be interesting to see how Dallas approaches this game against the Lightning, who are the only remaining Central team Dallas has yet to face. There is no doubt still bitterness over their loss in the Cup Final last year, which may ignite the Stars to play high-impact, aggressive hockey. Or perhaps they’ll stick to their guns and simply try to wear down the Lightning offense with their defensive playstyle, hoping to sneak a couple goals past Vasilevskiy. My bet is on the latter, but you never know with this team.
Stars Projected Lineup
There’s no word from morning skate yet, but expect a lineup similar to the following:
Anton Khudobin is expected to get the nod in net tonight.
Lightning Projected Lineup
Andrei Vasilevskiy was first off the ice this morning and is thus expected to start.