Tonight the Stars welcome in the Minnesota Wild for a nice Saturday night home game. The Stars of course have been on a tear recent with their play, climbing through the very tight Pacific division with this five game-winning streak and going 7-1-1 over the last nine games total. The division though is close and tight, just like the conference is right now. Dallas is sitting up at the top right now, but the bottom team in the Pacific is only 3 points behind the Stars, and that is San Jose (the team many people picked to win the division or battle it out with the Kings for the division). But the west is packed tight as well overall, with the second place team and twelfth place team only separated by only four points. So not much wiggle room early. But the Stars have been lead by great team defense, penalty killing, and goaltending over the last two weeks.
Fans can expect to see Kari Lehtonen back in the crease tonight, and he has a .956 save percentage and a 1.33 goals against in the last three games. Raycroft put in another amazing start for the Stars against the Cap Thursday night, and is giving the Stars a solid option at the backup position. Both have carried the team when it has had bad periods over this winning stretch, and come up with big saves at the right times. The team has been better at defense and blocking chances overall, but there have still been some times when they have slipped up. Lehtonen and Raycroft have provided plenty have big saves, and along with some improved play on the penalty kill, the Stars are keeping the puck out of their own net.Their goals against is now 10th overall in the league.
Now the key needs to be to find a way to keep pucks in their opponents goal. The goals have been there at times when they have needed them, but at the same time they have not scored a lot during this stretch except for the 4-1 win over Carolina and the 5-4 overtime win over San Jose two weeks ago. While winning games and we have seen offense from this team this season, they are only 15th right now. Part of this continues to be the powerplay. A 21st ranked PP in the league is not where this PP should be with the amount of talent and goal scorers this team has to use. Brad Richards is being relied on to not just run the powerplay, but run almost every minute of it. He is almost being overused, playing almost every shift with the unit. He is extremely talented and we know what he can do. But they may be trying to rely on him too much and at times wearing him down. Tonight they face a team that does not score a lot in the Minnesota Wild, but the Wild are the 9th ranked PK. Hopefully the Stars can do something or show some progress against one of the better defensive units in the west, especially for a team in the bottom of the conference right now.
A couple of the Stars young guys will get some playing time tonight. Top prospect Philip Larsen was called up today as the team is already without Fistric (Woywitka has stepped up and played great in his spot), and Trevor Daley left the ice early this morning and is rumored to be dinged up. So Daley maybe won’t play tonight, and if so Larsen will get another chance to play with the big club and maybe see some time with the second PP unit. He is talented offensively and moving the puck, and has been down with the AHL Stars this season working on adjusting the hockey on this side of the world and improving his defensive game. Aaron Gagnon will also see action tonight, and might get a chance to play more then one game depending on how he does. Barch is on the IR and may miss a week or so, and Peterson is a little roughed up and will sit tonight. Gagnon impressed during the preseason and got some support that he should have gotten a roster spot. But he also been down the Texas getting top minutes there, and he has shown over the last couple of years there that he can play whatever role is needed of him. In the minors and juniors, he has at times been a scorer and offensive threat, but also at times played the role of a shutdown and PK guy and done so well. I definitely think he has a future in the NHL. At 24, he is not a stud prospect. But he can be a solid third line center or role guy who can chip in offense but be defensive and play the PK. A good show tonight and I think he plays the next game over Peterson if Peterson is not 100% or the coaches just like what they continue to see in Gagnon.