The Dallas Stars take back to the road tonight, as they play the first of their two road games this week against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both teams have gotten off to a solid start. While the Stars have started off undefeated and won games in a couple of different ways, the Lightning started off the year 3-0 before being handed a 6-0 defeated at the hands of the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. The Stars will play at Florida next on Thursday night.
Dallas is expected to see former netminder Mike Smith start in net for Tampa Bay tonight, as Brad Richards returns to Tampa for only the second time since Dallas traded for him in February 2008. Dallas sent Smith, Jussi Jokinen, and more to the Lightning for Richards right before the trade deadline. Brad is off to an amazing start this season after putting up 91 points last season for Dallas. Richards himself has 9 points, and the Stars top line has a combined 20 points over the first 4 games. With the Stars second line of Morrow and Ribeiro looking sharp too, the Stars are rolling two top lines that don’t just threaten to score but also are delivering.
Combine the scoring with solid play in net, and the Stars are starting to get some attention. Pierre Lebrun put the Stars up at #5 overall in his weekly power rankings, stating “OK, OK … I can’t totally ignore early-season perfection. Brad Richards (UFA July 1) has been on fire, and so has goalie Kari Lehtonen, who is the masked man GM Joe Nieuwendyk is gambling on to turn around the fortunes of this franchise.” Now if the Stars can stop giving up so many shots on net and getting themselves in penalty issues, then we can breathe easy. A couple of these games could have been won much easier except the Stars have taken a lot of penalties early and their PK is still not looking much better then last season.
Stars and Lightning drop the puck at 6:30 EST in Tampa Bay and I think this one could be another close game. I expect a 4-3 finish, maybe even some extra action past the 3rd period tonight. Jamie Benn will once again sit out tonight (dealing with concussion-like symptoms) and Kari Lehtonen will get the start in net again. As mentioned above, Smith will start tonight for the Lightning and it looks like Vincent Lecavalier will not skate tonight due to a hand injury.