It’s tempting to refer to Thursday’s tilt with the visiting Colorado Avalanche as a “trap game” for the Dallas Stars.
After all, the Avs stumble into Big D in last place in the NHL. No team scores fewer goals per game (2.06) or allows more (3.26). They’re 3-7-0 over the last 10 games, and missing key players in Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson. Nearing the midpoint of the season, all Colorado has to look forward to is the NHL Draft Lottery in June.
For this to truly be a “trap game” for the Stars, though, the Boys in Victory Green would need to be safely ensconced in a playoff spot, as they were at this time last year. Injuries to forwards and significant personnel changes on defense combined to produce a wildly inconsistent start to Dallas’ 2016-17 campaign, however, and they currently sit one point out of the second Wild Card spot and six points out of third place in the Central Division.
After making some tactical adjustments at the beginning of December, the Stars are on an upward trajectory. They’re now much more sound defensively, which has lowered their goals-against and dramatically improved team save percentage.
With the improved statistics, the Stars are starting to see results in the standings: They’re 4-1-1 in their last six games, and Tuesday night’s victory in Arizona marked just the second time this season Dallas has strung together back-to-back wins. Against the Avs Thursday, they’ll try for their first three-game win streak of 2016-17.
Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 7:30 pm CST
Broadcast channels – FS-SW, ALT
2016-17 Season Series: October 15 – Avalanche 6, Stars 5
November 17 – Stars 3, Avalanche 2
December 3 – Stars 3, Avalanche 0
Colorado Avalanche: 12-21-1 – 25 Points
Road Record: 8-9-0
Hot Players: Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie
Key Injuries: Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Mikhail Grigorenko – Matt Duchene – Rene Bourque
Blake Comeau – Carl Soderberg – Jarome Iginla
Andreas Martinsen – John Mitchell – Joe Colborne
Fedor Tyutin – Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov – Francois Beauchemin
Patrick Wiercioch – Cody Goloubef
Dallas Stars: 15-14-7 – 37 Points
Home Record: 10-5-3
Hot Players: Kari Lehtonen, Jason Spezza and John Klingberg
Key Injuries: Antoine Roussel, Patrick Sharp, Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Jason Spezza
Curtis McKenzie – Radek Faksa – Brett Ritchie
Lauri Korpikoski – Devin Shore – Patrick Eaves
Jiri Hudler – Cody Eakin – Adam Cracknell
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis – Jamie Oleksiak
Johnny Oduya – Jordie Benn
1) Kari Lehtonen will make his third consecutive start for the Stars Thursday night. Over his last five starts, the big Finn has a save percentage of .921. The last time Dallas and Colorado met, he recorded his first (and to this point, only) shutout of the season.
2) Cody Eakin returns to the ice tonight after serving a four-game suspension for making contact with the impeccably-coiffed head of New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Stars had an optional morning skate, so his linemates for the evening are anyone’s guess. Given Eakin’s struggles to this point, putting him with Hudler and Cracknell on the fourth line makes sense.
3) Per Mark Stepneski, Antoine Roussel and Patrick Sharp are both less-than-healthy and won’t play tonight, while Stephen Johns and Patrik Nemeth are healthy scratches on defense.
4) Stars fans should keep an eye on Colorado’s number 96, Mikko Rantanen, tonight. The big, talented rookie right wing is going to be a force in the NHL. As dark as the Avs’ present is, their future is equally bright, and Rantanen’s a big part of that. Mark it: The Dallas faithful will be cursing his name for years to come.
5) Parting Shot: Colorado will be sellers as the trade deadline approaches. Some folks, including The Dallas Morning News‘ Mike Heika, are beating the drum for Dallas to deal Patrik Nemeth. If the Stars are in playoff position by February, a Nemeth-for-Jarome Iginla deal could make sense for both clubs. Wouldn’t it be nice for the Stars’ first-round pick in 1995 to play at least a few games in Dallas?