Stars return home from losing road trip to face Ducks
DALLAS -- Much has changed since the last time the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars met on Oct. 13 at American Airlines Center to start the 2016-17 regular season.
Dallas won that night 3-1, but the Stars are languishing in the middle of the Central Division standings with an 11-13-6 record. The Stars just completed an 0-2-0 road trip that saw them lose back-to-back games at Philadelphia on Saturday and at division rival Chicago on Sunday.
The Stars, who are 7-4-2 at home, have allowed 96 goals so far this season, tying them with the Jets for most in the NHL.
But as Dallas returns home to begin a stretch where eight of its next nine games are on home ice, coach Lindy Ruff knows the time is now for his inconsistent club to start righting the ship.
"This will be the season for us," Ruff said after Sunday's 3-1 loss in Chicago. "We've got to try to build some momentum (at home). I think all of the season is going to land on this homestand."
The Stars got a boost Sunday from the return of injured defenseman Johnny Oduya, who had missed the previous 10 games with a lower-body injury, and of veteran forward Jiri Hudler, sidelined the previous 20 games due to illness.
However, on Tuesday, Dallas will be without young defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who will be serving the final game of a two-game suspension for a check to the head of Philadelphia's Chris Van de Velde on Saturday.
Even with Oleksiak unavailable, Stars captain Jamie Benn knows it's now or never for him and his teammates to start racking up points and improving their mediocre record.
"We've got a lot of catching up to do. We put ourselves in a tough spot, but no reason why we can't turn this around," Benn said. "We've got to find a way to dig deep here and give ourselves a chance to get back in this."
Anaheim (15-9-6), on the other hand, heads into Tuesday's game on a three-game winning streak and occupying first place in the Pacific Division.
On Sunday at Honda Center, the Ducks defeated Ottawa 5-1 to finish their three-game homestand a perfect 3-0-0.
Corey Perry and Antoine Vermette each had a goal and an assist for Anaheim, who is 5-5-4 on the road so far this season.
"We came out, we were energized, we were ready to play," Perry said. "Everybody in here knew what was at stake. It was our last one before we go on the road for a tough stretch. You need those two points."
The Ducks are starting a six-game road trip that after Dallas will take them to Boston, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa before returning home to host San Jose on Dec. 27.
First-year Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle likes how his club has been playing of late, but there are still areas where he'd like to see additional improvement.
"Our ability to play fast and execute fast is getting better. I'm not saying it's where it needs to be, but it's getting there," Carlyle said.
Since it was coming off a back-to-back, Dallas had Monday off. But one story line to track during morning skate on Tuesday will be whether Ruff sticks with Kari Lehtonen in goal, who is 2-3-0 with a 2.20 goals-against-average over his five straight starts, or if he goes back to Antti Niemi.
But regardless of who Ruff puts between the pipes, Dallas' ongoing defensive woes continue to put it squarely behind the eight ball. Last season, when the Stars led the NHL in goals scored, their defensive deficiencies were covered up by the fact they could outscore most foes.
However, with Dallas' goals for down this season, those weaknesses in the back end have become much more glaring because those mistakes are now leading to more losses.
"Yeah, I think that our guys feel a lot of pressure," Ruff said. "We got out of a lot of games last year, especially in the first 50, where we were winning games 5-3 and mistakes weren't killing us. Right now, with our scoring being down, the big mistakes are really standing out."