The last time the Dallas Stars played a game, they trailed 2-0 early before rallying to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime. Strange though it may seem, the Stars’ victory was almost a foregone conclusion.
For the Lightning, the loss was their first game following a league-mandated five-day break. The bye week is a new feature of the schedule this season, and teams coming off the break are a brutal 4-12-4.
Why is this relevant? Because the Stars return to the ice tonight for their first game following the bye week. Tonight’s opponent, the Arizona Coyotes, have already defeated two post-break teams and hope to make it three.
According to Stars center Radek Faksa, the challenge of returning from the break is different for each player.
“For me, if I’m not on the ice for one day, I feel different,” said Faksa. “So it’s hard for me to get back. But some guys, they don’t mind. Five days off the ice and they’ll feel the same, so I think it depends on the player.”
In addition to timing of passes, positioning and simply regaining a feel for the puck, conditioning may also be an issue for players who haven’t been on the ice in almost a week. While Stars coach Lindy Ruff can’t control “timing” or “feel,” he said after the morning skate that he’ll keep shifts short Friday night, which will help keep the energy level high.
Maintaining a high energy level will also be a challenge for the Coyotes, who lost 6-3 to the Blackhawks in Chicago last night. ‘Yotes (and ex-Stars) coach Dave Tippett said last night that Louis Domingue would start in net against the Stars. Today, he hinted at more lineup changes.
Expect other lineup changes. Tippett: “Late night. We got three guys who didn’t play yesterday. Might as well put fresh bodies in there.”
— Sarah McLellan (@azc_mclellan) February 24, 2017
In a bit of good news, hulking winger Lawson Crouse, out since suffering a lower-body injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins February 11, could be one of the three “fresh bodies” Tippett mentioned.
Friday’s contest pits “five days off” against “second game of a back-to-back.” It’s “rusty” vs. “tired” tonight in Dallas. Fascinating from a clinical perspective, Stars-Coyotes might just be an entertaining game, too.
Arizona Coyotes at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 7:30 pm CST
Broadcast channels – FS-SW+, FS-A PLUS
2016-17 Season Series: Dec. 27 – Stars 3, Coyotes 2
Arizona Coyotes: 21-31-7 – 49 Points
Road Record: 8-17-4
Hot Players: Radim Vrbata and Alex Goligoski
Key Injuries: Brad Richardson
Tobias Rieder – Martin Hanzal – Radim Vrbata
Brendan Perlini – Christian Dvorak – Shane Doan
Max Domi – Ryan White – Alexander Burmistrov
Jordan Martinook – Peter Holland – Lawson Crouse
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Luke Schenn
Alex Goligoski – Kevin Connauton
Jakob Chychrun – Connor Murphy
Dallas Stars: 23-27-10 – 56 Points
Home Record: 16-9-6
Hot Players: Antoine Roussel, Jamie Benn, Patrick Eaves and Tyler Seguin
Key Injuries: Adam Cracknell, Johnny Oduya, Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Jiri Hudler
Antoine Roussel – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Sharp
Lauri Korpikoski – Devin Shore – Jason Spezza
Curtis McKenzie – Radek Faksa – Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis – Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth – Jamie Oleksiak
1) Patrick Eaves took part in the Stars’ morning skate before being traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional second-round pick this afternoon. Look for Jiri Hudler to take Eaves’ spot in the lineup tonight.
2) Earlier this week, Sportsnet reporter Eric Engels tweeted about Montreal Canadiens goalies Carey Price and Al Montoya discussing the bruises they’ve acquired since switching to the new NHL-mandated “form-fitting” pants. The Hockey Writers asked Lehtonen about it, and the Stars’ netminder said he hadn’t noticed a difference. “My pants before had some holes, too, so I haven’t been hurt more than before,” said Lehtonen.
3) As if the Stars needed more of a challenge tonight, Coyotes winger Radim Vrbata arrived in Dallas riding a seven-game point streak. He also has 41 points in 51 career games against the Stars.
4) Former Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski returns to Dallas tonight for the first time since he was traded to the Coyotes last summer. The veteran blueliner, who put up 37 points for the Stars last season, is on pace for 32 this year. He’s also second on the team in average time on ice, playing 23:01 a night. It looks like Goligoski is adjusting nicely to life in Arizona.
5) This season’s schedule was condensed by both the World Cup and the bye week, resulting in more back-to-back games and a generally frenetic pace from start to finish. Count Faksa as a fan of the five-day break, though. “You play a couple more back-to-back[s] and have five days’ break,” said the Czech center. “I think it’s worth it, because in one day you cannot recharge your battery, but I think in five days you can recharge your battery, so I think it’s smarter.”