The unfortunate timing of the Dallas Stars' slide has allowed a streaking Central Division opponent to fly by them for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Kings could be next.
The Stars visit the Pacific-leading Kings on Tuesday night hoping to avoid a season-worst four-game winless span as they conclude a trying three-game West Coast swing.
After Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss in San Jose, Dallas (29-12-5) has fallen three points back of a Chicago team that's won 11 in a row. The Stars' 11-game stretch has yielded three wins, including a 1-4-2 mark with 3.71 goals allowed per game since the calendar flipped. Despite losing ground, they were happier with their play against the Sharks than they were in consecutive regulation losses.
“We did better tonight,” center Jason Spezza told the team's official website. “Even some of the mistakes we made were harder-working mistakes. Sometimes when you go through a stretch like we went through, you've got to crawl before you can walk. It's hard to get that first win and get back on track.”
They've also started to see some production from their top scorers. Jamie Benn had two assists against the Sharks and has four points in three games after going without one in four straight. Tyler Seguin had a goal and an assist after being limited to a goal in his previous six.
The Stars have won four of the last five against the Kings, including the last two in last season's three-game series. They've also won consecutive matchups in Los Angeles as part of a 6-1-1 overall span. Benn has 11 points in his last seven in the series, while Seguin has nine in his past six.
The Kings (28-13-3) are coming off Sunday's 3-2 win in Anaheim with recent acquisition Vincent Lecavalier scoring in his second straight game. After being a healthy scratch for much of the season with Philadelphia, he has three points in five games with his new team. Los Angeles is 3-1-1 with him in the lineup.
“After something good happens, your confidence builds and you hold the puck a little longer, you make better decisions and I think I want to – it's only been five games – but I'm going to try and build on that,” Lecavalier said. “I still have to get better. But every game is high-tempo and it's a great hockey game. So it's a lot of fun, for sure.”
Top goal scorer Tyler Toffoli has scored in his last three games, while Anze Kopitar has three goals and five assists on a four-game point streak.
“I think just getting pucks down low,” Toffoli said of Kopitar's recent run after scoring twice in his previous 16 games. “He's so good at holding onto pucks and kind of draws more attention to him, sometimes two guys, which makes it easier for me when I can kind of find a little bit of open ice and he'll find that little soft spot and give me the puck.”
Lecavalier's goal came on the power play, improving Los Angeles to 4 for 8 in the last three games. The Stars have killed just two of five penalties in the last two.
In goal, Jonathan Quick has posted a 1.69 goals-against average and .938 save percentage over an 8-1-1 span. He's posted 3.13 and .882 marks while going 3-4-0 against the Stars over the past three seasons.
Dallas' Antti Niemi has a 3.75 GAA and .878 save percentage over an 0-2-2 period. The former San Jose goaltender knows the Kings well and was 2-2-0 with 1.78 and .942 marks against them last season.
The Stars will be without Jordie Benn after the defenseman suffered a lower-body injury against the Sharks.