Sputtering Stars look to stop skid vs. Flames

CALGARY, Alberta — The Dallas Stars have come to Calgary banged up physically to face an opponent that, like them, is fragile emotionally.

The Stars and Flames square off Thursday with each hoping the evening is the beginning of better times.

Dallas is coming off an 8-2 pasting by the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday for its sixth loss in seven games. The Flames, meanwhile, have lost four of their past five.

“This is pretty much rock bottom,” Stars captain Jamie Benn told the Dallas Morning News after the lopsided loss.

“We all have to look in the mirror and figure it out.”

The Stars continue a five-game road trip that began with an overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks and followed with a rout at the hands of the Jets that leaves them at 4-6-3 and in sixth place in the Central Division.

The Flames are 5-8-1 and also sixth in the Pacific Division. They return from a four-game road trip that saw them drop three contests and get outscored 16-5.

One big excuse for the Stars' woes is injuries and illnesses. Against Winnipeg they were missing six forwards, including Jason Spezza, who has missed two games with a lower body injury but could return against Calgary. Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Jiri Hudler, Mattias Janmark and Cody Eakin are also sidelined.

Spezza skated in Winnipeg Tuesday morning but head coach Lindy Ruff opted to keep him out for at least one more night.

“He skated but he's not close to 100 percent,” Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “But he's back on the ice, which is a good sign.”

Things haven't been much better lately for Calgary under new coach Glen Gulutzen, who is already occupying a hot seat after only one month on the job in place of the fired Bob Hartley.

The rough start prompted Flames president Brian Burke to agree to a rare radio interview on Tuesday. Known in the past for his high profile in the media, Burke has remained somewhat in the background in Calgary the past two seasons. That changed this week when he offered his assessment of the current state of affairs.

“Our top guys are not getting it done. I'm not one for calling players out, but our top guys are not playing up to their level. It's that simple,” he said.

Those top guys are winger Johnny Gaudreau and his center Sean Monahan, who both signed lucrative six-year contracts prior to 2016-17 but have thus far not delivered the goods. Gaudreau has two goals, eight points and a minus-11 rating through 14 games while Monahan has four goals, one lone assist and is a minus-10.

“Right now we're not good enough, Monahan told the Flames' website. “Me and Johnny know that. We've got to find a way to help this team produce offence. I mean, when you play big minutes, get opportunities on the power play and stuff like that, you've got to find a way to get it done.”