Stars-Predators Preview

After getting off to a sluggish start, Jamie Benn has since help

spark the Dallas Stars’ offense.

The same cannot be said for the struggling Nashville

Predators.

Coming off consecutive shutouts, Nashville tries to break out of

its slump Monday night when it hosts Dallas, which seeks its fifth

road win in six tries.

The Stars started 3-5-1 with their offense toiling in

mediocrity, totaling 16 goals while netting two or less six times.

In nine games since, though, they’ve scored 30 goals – scoring at

least three in each game – in going 6-3-0.

Benn’s presence in the lineup has clearly been a key behind the

surge. He missed the season’s first five games as he remained a

restricted free agent until signing a new deal with Dallas on Jan.

24. He registered just one point in his first four games but over

the last nine he has 12.

The 23-year-old center executed a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” in

Saturday’s 3-1 home win over San Jose, notching his sixth goal and

seventh assist while also finding himself in a rare fight.

“He has a passion to win, and it sparked us for sure,” coach

Glen Gulutzan said. “There’s our young bull out there, going out

there and getting things going. I thought it gave our team some

energy.”

Though the power play had struggled – the Stars had failed on 16

consecutive opportunities before Saturday – they scored two goals

with the man advantage on six chances.

“There was progress but we still have room for improvement,”

said defenseman Alex Goligoski, who had two assists. “I didn’t

think we were great out there by any means. But production matters,

so it felt good to get a couple.”

Seeking reliable offense continues to prove futile for the

Predators (8-6-5), who became the first team to be shut out five

times with Saturday’s 4-0 loss in Detroit.

Nashville is averaging a league-worst 2.0 goals and it’s found

the back of the net only 11 times in its last five contests

(1-3-1).

“Got to find a way to score,” defenseman Shea Weber said.

“Chances aren’t going to win the games.”

Goaltender Pekka Rinne, who owns a 1.77 goals-against average

and already has three shutouts, wasn’t able to keep Nashville in

Saturday’s game as per usual. Rinne instead matched a season high

by allowing four goals on just 27 shots.

He had surrendered six goals on 129 shots over his previous six

games.

“I’m comfortable putting him in net every night,” coach Barry

Trotz said. “You always get an argument from Pekka, ‘Shea Weber

plays every night, and everybody else plays every night. Why

shouldn’t I play every night?’ That’s what the great ones do, they

just want to play.”

Nashville’s hapless offense might hope to see Dallas goalie Kari

Lehtonen sidelined again. Lehtonen, who is 5-0-0 with a 1.69 GAA in

his last six starts, has missed three straight games because of a

groin injury and is still listed as day-to-day.

Cristopher Nilstorp was sharp Saturday, stopping 31 of 32 shots

after yielding four goals in each of his previous two games.

Rinne started all four games against the Stars last season,

going 2-1-0 with a 2.81 GAA.

Benn had two goals and two assists in last season’s series, and

Loui Eriksson has 15 points over his last 11 games against the

Predators.