Despite unfortunate losses to both Carolina and Florida during the Stars' five game road trip, it's not time for Stars fans to panic yet.
The Stars start a three-game homestand Tuesday that includes the Predators, Blue Jackets and Blues before heading to Phoenix for a crucial season finale against the Desert Dogs. The Stars have had a ton of recent success at home and always seem to play a much better game in Dallas. The ice seems more open for rushes and the defensemen seem much more comfortable. It could be a familiarity thing, but it could also be due to a much overlooked aspect of having home ice: the last change.
The last change gives Lindy Ruff the final option to change lines and defense parings to match up as best as he can with the opposition. This helped shut Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby out in the home game against the Penguins earlier this year and can help a lot offensively too. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin get the best D-pairing every game, but with the last change, Ruff can sneak them out against a third pairing on, say, an icing or quick change. It might not last for long, but it only has to last as long as the puck takes to find twine.
This will really help against Nashville and St. Louis, as both teams have a shutdown first pairing (Weber & Josi; Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester). Columbus is more evenly spread out on defense, so it shouldn't matter as much... although any drop-off matters with Benn and Seguin's skill.
Below are the previews for Tuesday's game against Nashville and Wednesday's tilt against Columbus.
Fortunately for the Stars, the Predators got demolished during their last trip to the American Airlines Center, 7-3, but that has been the only blip on Nashville's radar recently.
The Preds are 6-1-1 in their last eight and have suddenly found a bevy of scoring (over 4 goals per game average), something that they were lacking earlier in the season. For the first time since the 2007-08 season, Nashville has four different 20-goal scorers (Weber, Hornqvist, Fisher, Smith) and is the only team in the league to have a defensemen lead the team in goals (Weber).
Oddly enough, the biggest question will come from between the pipes for the Preds. Will it be the sensational Pekka Rinne or the surprisingly talented Carter Hutton? Rinne allowed seven goals in the last game against the Stars and Hutton has had previous success (pre-Olympic break) against Dallas. Meanwhile, Hutton has been lights-out recently, recording a shutout of San Jose (!!!) on Saturday night. He's a very respectable 19-11-4 on the season, but will head coach Barry Trotz give him the nod over starting goaltender Rinne? My guess is no, although he probably should.
PREVIEW: BLUE JACKETS
This is going to be a really tough game for a ton of reasons. Let's make a list.
1. This game is for Peverley. Both teams are going to remember what happened the last time they met at the AAC, and for the Stars, they can't get too caught up in trying too hard. They'll already be at a 1-0 disadvantage at the start of the game, so immediately they need to come out and just play their game and not try to be heroes for Pevs.
2. 'Lumbus is a fast starting team. We saw it in Columbus, where they had a stellar first period (3-0) and the Stars couldn't overcome it despite really outplaying them for the rest of the game. We saw it again in Dallas, where the acrobatic Tim Thomas was the only thing between the Jackets and a second or third goal in the early going. Now the Stars will have to weather the storm again and try to even it up early to deflate the Blue Jackets.
3. The Jackets need this game just as much as the Stars. They're holding on for dear life in the eastern conference wild card race, barely staving off Toronto and (more realistically) New Jersey. That means it's probably not going to be McElhinney in net (he was the starter in the Peverley game) but rather the reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky.
4. It's the second of a back-to-back. A year ago, we might as well have written this game in as a loss, but Ruff will have something to say about that now. Let's just hope the young legs can support the desire that the young minds have to make the postseason.