West foes seeking road back to playoffs
Saturday, 10.03.2009 / 7:00 PM
PREDATORS (0-0-0) at STARS (0-0-0)
Season series -- First of four meetings for the 2009-10 season; the teams split the season series last season. Nashville captain Jason Arnott scored three goals, including a pair on the power play to spark a 3-1 win in the first meeting. Just four nights later, Dallas got a hat trick from rookie Fabian Brunnstrom in a 6-4 triumph. Marty Turco was 2-1 in three starts in net for the Stars, while Dan Ellis split four decisions for the Predators.
Big Story -- Two teams used to being in the Stanley Cup Playoffs found themselves on the outside looking in last season, and now look to rebound. The Predators earned their first trip to the postseason in 2003-04 and made it back each of the following three seasons, though they never made it out of the first round. The Stars went all the way to the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago, but injuries and inconsistency by Turco under a heavy workload doomed them to a 12th-place finish.
Predators: Pekka Rinne emerged as a top-flight goaltender last season, keeping Nashville in almost every game, but the Predators scored the fourth fewest goals in the West -- none of the three teams below them (Phoenix, Los Angeles, Colorado) made the playoffs, either. Rinne was outplayed by Ellis in the preseason, leaving coach Barry Trotz uncertain as to who his opening night goalie would be.
"We're going to take everything into consideration — preseason and last season,'' Trotz told The Tennessean. "There's factors — records against Dallas, preseason play — and there's gut feel on how guys are seeing the puck right now. It might be as simple as saying, 'Peks was the guy at the end of the year — you're starting.' I have not made my mind up yet.''
Stars: After a roller-coaster season that featured a terrible start, some dramatics courtesy of Sean Avery, a midseason resurgence and a lull down the stretch that left them outside the top eight for the first time since 2001-02, Dallas looks to re-establish itself under new coach Marc Crawford.
"You look around this room, and it's a very good team," defenseman Stephane Robidas, who recently signed a contract extension, told the Dallas Morning News. "You can look at other teams, obviously, and say they are going to be good, and it is never easy in the NHL to win on any given night. But I think you look at our team, and we should be very good, too."
Who's Hot -- Predators right wing Patric Hornqvist registered just two goals and seven points in 28 games during his first cup of coffee in the League, but led the team in points during the preseason with seven. Meanwhile, the Stars have the unit of Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson and James Neal clicking, as they combined for seven goals and 16 points during the exhibition season.
Injury Report -- Forwards Joel Ward and Colin Wilson will begin the season on injured reserve for the Predators. Steve Sullivan and Wade Belak, who were nursing groin injuries, were back on the ice Wednesday and appear ready to play. Stars forward Jere Lehtinen battled through groin and hip issues during the preseason, while Mike Modano (hip) and Brenden Morrow (thigh) spent time listed as day-to-day.
Stat Pack -- Morrow, the Dallas captain, was coming off his best NHL season and scoring at nearly a point-per-game clip when he was lost for the season after just 18 games. Morrow registered a career-best 32 goals and 74 points in 2007-08, though the Stars need him back for his intangibles almost as much as his scoring output.
Puck Drop -- Crawford, who won the Stanley Cup with Colorado back in 1996, coaches his first game behind the Dallas bench. His counterpart, Trotz, is the only coach the Nashville franchise has known since entering the League for the 1998-99 season.
-- Brian Hunter, NHL.com