Stars attempt to get back on track vs. Coyotes (Dec 27, 2016)
The Dallas Stars are hoping to finish 2016 on a strong note to push themselves back in the playoff picture. The Arizona Coyotes are banking that the three-day Christmas break will help a young team climb back on a path of progress.
One team won't get its wish when the Stars and Coyotes meet on Tuesday at Gila River Arena to launch the final week of the calendar year.
"It's easy to panic, but I think that creates a bad environment," Stars general manager Jim Nill told the Dallas Morning News of a team that is 19 points behind last year's pace through 35 games. "If you stay calm and have confidence in your team, I think that's the best way to lead."
Dallas' struggles have been well documented, and they are largely tied to a staggering rash of injuries. Top-nine forwards Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee), Patrick Sharp (concussion), Cody Eakin (knee) (undisclosed), Jason Spezza (lower body) and Jiri Hudler (illness) have all missed significant portions of the season. Only the Edmonton Oilers have lost more man-games to injury in the Western Conference.
"It doesn't make you change your plan, but you are a different team," Nill said. "The coaches are coaching a different team, so they have to coach it differently. The team we envisioned at the start of the year, we're going to get there ... but the reality is this isn't that team yet, so you have to do what you can to win games now."
The Coyotes have their own injury-related problems with center Brad Richardson (broken tibia and fibula) and left wing Max Domi (broken hand) out indefinitely, but coach Dave Tippett saw a greater issue in his team when it dropped its fourth straight game on Friday to Toronto.
"I think our team needs a break," Tippett said. "We're struggling to score goals and we're making some mistakes at key times that are coming back to bite us. We've got to evaluate where we are -- step back and look at few things and regroup."
The Coyotes have lost 10 of 13 games in December (3-8-2) and have managed just 25 goals during that stretch. Part of the problem stems from the team's poor possession numbers. Arizona is dead last in the NHL with a Corsi For percentage at 45.35 and Arizona has the second-worst goal differential in the league at minus-33.
"Our puck play continues to bite us a bit," Tippett said.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff has not announced which goalie will start in Arizona but Kari Lehtonen won his last game and has played well on the road recently. Eakin is suspended one more game for his hit on New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist on Dec. 15 but the Stars could get Sharp back in the lineup.
Mike Smith is expected to start in goal for Arizona despite a four-game run with a save percentage under .900. Defenseman Jakob Chychrun (upper body) and right winger Ryan White (lower body) are expected back in the lineup after missing Friday's game.