Another big road trip begins for Stars

You have to give the Dallas Stars a bit of credit. After seeing January end with a four-game losing streak, Glen Gulutzan’s club returned home on Feb. 1 and delivered a 4-3 win over Phoenix to snap said skein. And after a tough road defeat on the Coyotes’ home ice the following night, the Stars delivered back-to-back road wins at both Colorado and Edmonton, which along with an impressive 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday at American Airlines Center gives Dallas a three-game winning streak heading into this week’s tour of Western Canada. It goes without saying that this trip, much like every road trip be it long or short, is crucial in a compressed 48-game schedule. But here’s a breakdown of this three-game swing.

Tuesday: at Edmonton (8:30 PM – FOX Sports Southwest)

If it seems like it hasn’t been that long since the Stars last skated at Rexall Place, that’s because it really hasn’t been all that long, one week to be exact. Dallas is just one week removed  from a 3-2 overtime win over the Oilers on their home ice last Tuesday. Jaromir Jagr netted the game-winner for the Stars in that one, Dallas’ fifth straight win over Edmonton, which was also the Stars’ 10th win in the last 11 meetings between these two Western Conference clubs. Overall, the Oilers are 5-4-3 with 13 points, putting them in second place in the Northwest Division behind only Vancouver.

Edmonton can also run out two pretty solid lines, the first featuring 2012 top overall pick Nail Yakupov, currently tied for third on the Oilers with eight points along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. The Oilers’ second line features the club’s current top two scorers in Taylor Hall (2-9-11), Sam Gagner (4-9-13) along with Ales Hemsky (5-3-8). Edmonton also has a power play that has converted 24.1 percent of the time, fifth-best in the NHL thus far.

Of course, Dallas is far from running on empty. Jamie Benn has goals in three straight games and has definitely found a nice groove over the last week-plus, performing well enough to earn NHL Second Star of the Week honors. And while the Oilers’ power play appears quite formidable, the Stars’ penalty kill is more than up to the task, currently ranking 10th in the league, killing off 84.2 percent of opposing power plays. So this one likely comes down to goaltending with Kari Lehtonen (6-2-1) likely having to continue his string of stellar performances while Dallas will need to break through once or twice against Oilers No. 1 netminder Devan Dubnyk (5-3-3).

Wednesday: at Calgary (7:30 p.m. – FOX Sports Southwest Plus)

Ah, the dreaded back-to-back, which has been the Stars’ true Achilles Heel over the past season-plus. Dallas was 1-13-0 in the second game of back-to-backs last season and was outscored 52-24 in those games. So far this season, the Stars are 0-3-0 and have been outscored 7-1 in those similar situations. Even with Dallas playing on Tuesday night in Edmonton, one would have to think facing the Flames, who are 3-4-3 and sit in fourth place in the Northwest, might be a great chance for them to come away with two points for once in game two of a back-to-back.

Sure, the Flames’ top line of Curtis Glencross, Alex Tanguay, who leads Calgary with nine points (4-5-9), and Jarome Iginla remains a formidable trio, but if the Flames have a current weakness that Dallas should exploit early and often  it’s between the pipes. The normal rock-solid Miikka Kiprusoff has been sidelined with a sprained MCL on Feb. 6 and in his place, second-year netminder Leland Irving, who appeared in just seven games last season as a rookie, has filled in for Kiprusoff and the Flames also recently signed 32-year-old Joey MacDonald, who appeared in 29 games for the Red Wings in each of the last two seasons. Dallas has had its share of problems at the Saddledome over the past few seasons, but this could be a great chance to run their win streak to five games and head to the final game of the trip at Vancouver with a considerable amount of momentum.

Friday: at Vancouver (9:00 p.m. – FOX Sports Southwest)

Rogers Arena has been a tough place to play over the past few years for the Stars and this time should be no different. Heading into Tuesday’s home tilt with Minnesota, Vancouver had won five straight and looks to really have it rolling as the leaders of the Northwest Division (7-2-2, 16 points). The Canucks are an impressive 4-1-1 at home and also sport an impressive goal differential of plus-9 even if it is still relatively early in the 48-game schedule.

Of course, any game with Vancouver means having to contend with the Sedin twins, who thus far have accounted for 18 points with Daniel (3-7-10) leading the way but linemate Henrik (0-8-8) also doing his part as part of a trio alongside Alex Burrows. And as always, the Canucks are also getting production from their blue line thanks to Alexander Edler (3-6-9) and Mason Raymond is also chipping in.

But the most interesting aspect of this year’s Canuck team might just be the goaltending, where the club can roll out two quality netminders on any given night. Corey Schneider (4-2-0, 2.36 GAA, 1 SHO) has been solid as has Roberto Luongo (3-0-2, 1.53, 1 SHO), a combination sure to give any opposing attackers fits. However, while winning in Vancouver is a tall order for any club, especially one finishing a three-game road swing like the Stars will be on Friday, it’s not impossible. And if as Gulutzan continues to say, Dallas can continue to do all those little things and show incredible and precise attention to detail, then the Stars could leave Western Canada with a point or two, a nice lead-in to Sunday’s home game with the Flames.