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.