The points you receive in inner-division match-ups have never been as important as they are this season. Even as the Kings and the Sharks struggle to struggle to break the playoff bubble with 49 points each; they are still only 10 points back from your division leading Dallas Stars. If you lose in regulation tonight then that puts that gap to 8 points and it just goes to show how volatile the Western Conference standings have been the last few seasons in a cap-era NHL.
Even as the Stars spread the gap and the Kings sit in 9th place, this game couldn’t be bigger. And with the Ducks and Coyotes both playing some great hockey as of late this just makes the 2 points that much more important. The Pacific Division is just a microcosm of the entire conference and league as a whole. So, going into the AAC tonight to meet up with Kopitar and the Kings, the Stars know they need to play them as if they are playing for the 8th seed.
The Kings are struggling as of late; despite beating Edmonton on Saturday night, they have an abysmal 3-7-0 record in their last 10 games. As my colleague Austin Waldron made a point of in his last entry here on Blackout Dallas – the Kings are one of the teams that every “hockey specialist” around put up to be the division leader this season with Dallas in the basement. But, as it’s been covered to a pulp – the Stars are a big surprise and this and that and nobody expected it, etc. etc.
Yet here we are at the half-way point and despite a rough stretch near the end of December, the Stars seem determined to not let the past repeat itself with a mid-season slump as they’ve pushed their record to 6-3-1 in the last 10 games and have a 3-game win streak going that we all hope can be extended to 4 then 5…
But the Kings were nominated as the theoretical division leaders before the season started for a reason and near the beginning of said season they were looking like they would live up to it with a huge start. So after finally getting a win against the Oilers you would think they would be looking to keep themselves off of the snide and get a streak of their own going; they certainly have the talent and the coaching staff to pull their season together. The Stars have undoubtedly had some issues with the Kings the last couple seasons and they likely remember that. The question in my mind is, how will they react coming off of a 6-1 shellacking of the Atlanta Thrashers. Teams tend to get over-confident when they come off of a high-offense showing like that and that can cause them to coast through the next game and earn themselves a loss. So, do the Stars have enough character to fight off that demon and play like the Kings are as good as they were supposed to be? Because, LA is not going to come in and expect to lose… they have mounds of talent and will likely climb their way back into a playoff spot before the season is over.
Per usual the top line and the top 4 defensemen are going to be the focal points for the Stars coming into the game. With Kopitar leading the way on the front end and Doughty and Johnson on the blueline the Stars know where to focus their primary defensive attention. The Richards line on the other hand is going to have to come through in tonight’s game, the goaltending isn’t going to fall apart tonight like it did in Atlanta – they have young studs in the pipes that can steal games for them and the blueline production was likely a flash in the pan, so the top 6 forwards are going to have to put forth a very accurate effort where we see them continue to bury chances and be the high scoring team we thought they would be and have shown us they can be this month.
Lehtonen is back in net for the Stars and the line-up will likely be the same despite Niskanen beginning to stick handle with his injured hand in practice.
So we bring the law of averages into light, is it going to be a team who hasn’t won much finally evening their stretch out or will it be the Stars vs. Kings taking over the law and the Stars finally winning one against a Kings team that has had their number lately? We’ll get to see tonight at 7:30pm.