The Dallas Stars have early evidence that investment in securing their defensive zone could pay off, and the Colorado Avalanche need immediate improvement in that area.
Dallas heads to Colorado on Saturday night seeking its first 2-0 start since 2010-11, while the Avalanche try to avoid their second straight at 0-2 with a seventh win over the Stars in as many tries.
The Stars finished sixth in the Central Division last season despite leading the Western Conference in goals. Granted, it was a division that produced seven teams with 90 points, but it happened because the Stars were tied for 26th with 3.13 goals against per game, their worst since a 3.41 mark in 1995-96.
They took offseason action by bringing in goaltender Antti Niemi on a three-year deal and signing defenseman Johnny Oduya for two years from Chicago.
Niemi, acquired in June from San Jose for a seventh-round draft pick, made 37 saves in Thursday’s 3-0 home win over Pittsburgh.
"It’s important for our team," coach Lindy Ruff told the club’s official website after enduring a 2014-15 season in which his goaltenders had a 29th-ranked save percentage of .895. "We talked about our goals against and we are going to need a few more saves. We got both. We had guys blocking shots and desperation. I think the important part is he didn’t give up any bad ones. He made some great saves, but nothing leaked through him. He looked really good."
Dallas also got an immediate contribution from Mattias Janmark, who scored in the first two minutes of his first NHL game after being acquired from Detroit in March.
"I couldn’t have had a better start," Janmark said. "My first game, and to get that start, I never dreamed of that."
The next hurdle is some success against the Avalanche. Colorado has won nine of the last 10 meetings behind 3.70 goals per game.
That kind of production didn’t matter in Thursday’s 5-4 home loss to Minnesota. The Avalanche led 3-0 after the first period and 4-1 after two, then allowed the Wild to grab the lead with four goals by the 10:14 mark in the third. Goalie Semyon Varlamov took responsibility.
"When you score four goals, those games you should win," Varlamov told the team’s official website. "There’s a time when the goalie has to step up and stop those shots, it doesn’t matter if they are tough ones or easy ones. I didn’t play well tonight. Five goals … I’m so (angry)."
Varlamov has won his last eight starts against Dallas with a 2.32 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
The wasted offense came from John Mitchell, Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson and Jarome Iginla, the last of which has goals in his last two games against the Stars. Landeskog has three goals and six assists on the six-game winning streak in the series.
The five-game sweep last season came with the Avalanche penalty kill that finished fifth at 84.6 percent limiting Dallas to 1 for 18. The Stars went 2 for 5 on the power play in their opener with Ales Hemsky joining Janmark in the scoring.
It was a start the veteran Hemsky needed after a disastrous first season in Dallas. The forward, signed in the 2014 offseason from Ottawa, had 11 goals and 21 assists in 76 games, marking the worst points-per-game mark of his career at 0.42.
Colorado scored on both of its power-play chances against the Wild after ranking 29th last season at 15.0 percent.