Stars await intriguing week of matchups
Simply put, the Dallas Stars needed a win on Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks at American Airlines Center and that's exactly what they got in a 3-1 win over their Pacific Division rivals. Dallas had dropped the first two games of a three-game homestand, both by one goal, a pair of 4-3 losses to Calgary and Vancouver, and Glen Gulutzan's club needed a win before they headed out on the road for two quick ones before returning home later in the week. Well, this week will see the Stars hit the pond four times and here's a look at all four contests.
Monday-at Nashville (7:00 PM; NBC Sports Network)
Dallas gets it first look at the Predators this season and depending on how one views this game, the Stars might be getting the denizens of the Music City at just the right time. That's because Nashville is currently riding a two-game losing streak, dropping both ends of a back-to-back over the weekend, losing to Vancouver 1-0 on Friday and at Detroit 4-0 on Saturday.
Barry Trotz's Preds have already been shut out five times this season and average an NHL-worst 2.0 goals per game, which could mean Stars rookie goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp, who got his first career victory between the pipes against San Jose and is slated to start on Monday, might not have a lot to do in this one.
And speaking of goaltenders, Nashville, who is 6-4-1 in Feburary and 4-2-3 at home, still has one of the league's best in Pekka Rinne, who has a 1.77 goals-against-average and three shutouts, a guy who always seems to give the Stars attackers fits. But the Preds power play is simply anemic, converting at a rate of just 14.3 percent, sixth-worst in the league but the Nashville penalty kill is much better, killing off opposing power plays 84.4 percent of the time, eighth-best in the NHL.
The Stars have their own issues on the power play, a unit that was 0-for-its-last-12 before going 2-for-5 in the win over the Sharks. But Dallas will get some good news with the likely return of Trevor Daley to the blueline. Daley has missed the last two games with a neck injury and appears to be ready to make his return against the Preds. However, the Stars had to put fellow d-man Aaron Rome on injured reserve after he suffered a foot injury in Saturday's win.
Dallas also recalled Jamie Oleksiak and Carl Sneep from the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. Oleksiak, the Stars' top pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, has already gotten a taste of how things are in the league as has Sneep, who has one game of NHL experience from his time in Pittsburgh. Rookie forward Matt Fraser, who played one game at the NHL level last season and thus far been a healthy scratch since being recalled, should also make his season debut at some point this week.
Tuesday-at Columbus (6:00 PM; Fox Sports Southwest Plus)
Just looking at the Western Conference standings, it's not hard to see that things haven't gone well at all for the Blue Jackets thus far. Columbus has just 12 points, fewest in the West and the Jacket's goal differential of minus-16 is worst in the conference and second-worst in the entire National Hockey League.
Columbus has just five wins so far this season but one of those victories did come at the Stars' expense back on Jan. 28, when the Jackets handed Dallas a 2-1 defeat in the second night of a back-to-back. The Stars' woes on the second night have been well-documented as Dallas is 0-3-0 so far this season and has been outscored 13-5 on the second night of back-to-backs.
And it's not like the Jackets have not been competitive in spots this season. On Sunday, they played the current toast of the league, Chicago, to a tough 1-0 defeat. In fact, of Columbus' 12 losses this season, half of them have been by only one goal but they have lost by three or more goals on three occasions, so it's tough to figure out what to expect from Columbus on a night in, night out basis.
When it comes to special teams, the Jackets' PP is converting just 12.3 percent of the time, the third-worst power play in the league. Facing that unit a few times should help the Dallas penalty kill, which is threatening to crack the NHL's top 10, continue to improve.
The Blue Jackets are 3-4-2 at home so far this season and if Dallas prevails on Monday night in Nashville, could the Ohio state capital be where the Stars get a much-needed win on the second night of a back-to-back? Possibly so. Then again, a repeat of the Jan. 28 result wouldn't be a total surprise either.
Thursday-Edmonton (7:30 PM; Fox Sports Southwest)
By the time the Oilers hit the pond at the AAC on Thursday, the Stars will already have faced, and defeated them twice on the young season. Dallas ventured to Rexall Place twice within a six-day span earlier in February, beating Edmonton 3-2 in overtime on Feb. 5 and 4-1 just six days later on Feb. 12.
And when one talks about the Oilers, the first thing that always seems to come up is how much young talent this franchise has been assembling over the last few years. Of course, guys like Sam Gagner, who currently leads Edmonton in points with 17 (5-12-17) and Taylor Hall, who was second on the Oilers with 16 points (3-13-16) even with serving a two-game suspension for kneeing the Wild's Cal Clutterbuck.
But another subject that comes up quite frequently when it comes to the Oilers is special teams as their power play, which is currently converting on 23.7 percent of their opportunities, is the NHL's seventh-best and their penalty kill, which kills 87.5 percent of opposing power plays, is the league's fourth-best unit.
However, the Dallas penalty kill has done a stellar job limiting Edmonton's effectiveness with the extra attacker in the first two games with the Oilers of the year, holding their PP to 1-for-7. The Stars always seem to have a fairly easy time with Edmonton in Dallas, which makes this one a likely win for the home side. And in a short, two-game homestand, piling up points is vital to say the least. One last thing to note about this game is that the Oilers will play at Chicago on Monday, giving them a few days to prep for their third meeting of the year with the Stars.
Sunday-St. Louis (2:00 PM; Fox Sports Southwest)
The week will conclude or technically a new one will begin with Sunday's matinee against the Blues. Dallas had already faced Ken Hitchcock's club once this season, falling to St. Louis 4-3 at the AAC back on Jan. 26. In that game, the Blues got two goals and an assist from David Perron as St. Louis came back from a 2-1 deficit to score three unanswered and prevail by two-goals on Dallas' home ice.
St. Louis has recently had their issues winning games on their home ice, recently snapping a five-game losing streak in the Gateway City, but the Blues have been pretty stellar away from home all year, with a 6-2-1 road record. Ken Hitchcock's club has won three of its last four on the road and with the league's top-rated power play, a unit converting at a rate of 80.6 percent, it's not hard to see why the Blues remain a contender in the West.
Of course, St. Louis will host Chicago on Thursday and Edmonton on Friday as the Oilers complete the second night of a back-to-back after playing in Dallas on Thursday, so they will have a few more games under their belt once they face the Stars, but the Blues represent a great test for Dallas to end a short, two-game homestand.
After Sunday's game, the Stars will again hit the road, this time venturing to face defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles for the first time this season on Thursday and then playing at Phoenix on Saturday. Then it's back to Big D for the start of a run of four straight games at the AAC, the Stars' longest homestand to date of this truncated schedule.