Gameday Preview: Desperate Stars Look to Turn Things Around in Detroit (6:30pm CST)
Minor tweaks abound, but the leadership among top skilled players must pull Stars back into playoff race.
The Detroit Red Wings are still the Detroit Red Wings.
Did you expect them to fall off due to age? Did you think the Eastern Conference would make them soft? That they would struggle against Western Conference competition after a while?
They're as good as ever at 14-6-5... Points in 19 of their first 25 games. They rarely send the people home disappointed. Where the Stars have been dreadful in their building the Wings have been spectiacular in theirs, parting ways with their home crowd just three times in losses (9-3-2).
They've handled the best the West has to offer in defeating the Kings, Blackhawks, and Canucks.
Now they encounter... well, less than the best the West has to offer. In fact, these days, the Dallas Stars are pretty definitively, by any measurement, a lesser Western foe.
In fact, they might be the least of the least, at least in terms of one particular measurement: Goals against per game.
They are dead last. In the league. At 3.52 per game. Second-to-last belonging to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have a litany of injury-related excuses where the Stars have none, followed by the the likes of the Avalanche, who dispatched of the Stars with ease Saturday night.
So things are not going well, by any stretch of the imagination.
The power play has drifted to 24th in the league, despite Seguin, Benn, Spezza and friends. The penalty kill has slipped to 21st in the league. Their shots against? 25th in the league at 32.8, including 40, 47, 34, 37, 41 27, 25 and 47 against in the last three weeks.
That's a staggering 37.25 shots against per game in that stretch. Kari Lehtonen can only do so much, though the consensus seems to be that he must do better.
The "seems" on his backup Anders Lindback has been removed from the equation altogether after he was placed on waivers Wednesday morning, and Jussi Rynnas called-up from the Texas Stars. The next time Kari Lehtonen gets spelled in a back-to-back it will be Rynnas who gets the call.
Other moves Wednesday saw Patrick Eaves assigned to injured reserve and Curtis McKenzie recalled yet again in his stead. Eaves is expected to miss significant time with a potential broken bone in the lower body and being struck by a shot Tuesday evening in Toronto. His prognosis ranges anywhere from one to three months.
Dallas practiced with these lines yesterday:
Ales Hemsky, having gotten going with two goals in less than a week after none in the opening eight weeks of the season, sat out with what appeared to be a maintenance day.
Jussi Rynnas on the ice with the Stars in Detroit. He is resplendent in all white pads.— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) December 3, 2014
So at least they have that going for them.
What they don't? The Wings have averaged 3.8 goals per game at home over their last 10 at the Joe. The league's worst defensive team in terms of giving up goals, as detailed above, is going to have a problem with a strong possession team and savvy veteran leadership.
The answer? Goaltending, an early lead, or both. The Stars have to find some confidence, some aggressiveness, and some buzz early on or this trend will continue.
And oh by the way, the trend of surrendering power play after power play to the Leafs the other night? Instant death here. The Red Wings have scored the second-most power play goals in the league at 23, just one shy of Pittsburgh's 24. 15 of those have been scored on home ice- Better than a 26% conversion rate.
That's 10 of 14 home games with a power play goal, including five multi-power play goal games already this season.
Stay out of the box.