STARS (15-10-1) at SHARKS (14-9-1)
TV: FS-Southwest (HD), CSN-California (HD)
LAST 10: Dallas 4-5-1, San Jose 5-5-0
Season Series: The Sharks host the Stars for the first time this season; the teams met in Dallas on Nov. 19, with the Sharks winning 4-1. Each team won three times last season. Overall, the Sharks have won only two season series outright since sweeping the Stars in 1996-97, most recently in 2008-09, when they took five of six, all in regulation.
Stars: Wednesday was a busy off-day, as the Stars learned that they would be without defenseman Mark Fistric for three games after he was suspended for a hit on the Islanders' Nino Niederreiter on Saturday. They also traded Krys Barch to the Panthers along with a sixth-round 2012 draft pick for prospect Jake Hauswirth and Florida's fifth-round pick. The Stars essentially got an upgraded pick and an open roster spot.
And as they embark on a two-week bicoastal road trip, the Stars are eager to get some players back, namely defensemen Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski, plus captain Brenden Morrow, all of whom are expected to return during the trip, which takes them down the West Coast from San Jose to Los Angeles, then cross-country to the New York metropolitan area, where they face the Rangers, Islanders and Devils.
"We're getting closer obviously. [Daley] will be a player for us come Thursday for sure. So will [Morrow]," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said Monday on the Stars' official website. "That will be two guys back for sure. [Goligoski] is very close for us too with his playing cast and stuff. We're getting there. If we can get through another week here with no injuries, we'll be getting pretty close to healthy."
Sharks: The last five games have been as unproductive for the Sharks as any stretch this season --they've lost four of them, all in regulation. San Jose scored an average of two goals in those five games, and managed only one Tuesday on 42 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Wild, a team they had beaten in eight of their last 10 meetings and who were forced to go to a third-string goalie barely a minute into the game. They managed 16 shots on goal before the Wild recorded their first, but failed to finish on several chances.
Coach Todd McLellan made some changes to the lines during the game, and they stayed that way for Wednesday's practice, which means Brad Winchester joins Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski on the top line, and Patrick Marleau is dropped to the third with Michal Handzus and Jamie McGinn, theoretically adding "grind" to the former and quickness to the latter.
"Do I think Patty (Marleau) played as well as he could (Tuesday) night?" McLellan said to the San Jose Mercury News. "No. But Patty can make that Handzus-McGinn line very effective with his speed. There's no reason why that can't be a great line. Is that a demotion? I don't know. It could be a promotion."
Who's Hot: The Stars' hottest line is still the third. Eric Nystrom, Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak added a goal and two assists in Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Isles, giving them eight goals and 18 points in their last seven games and 34 points in 19 games as a trio. Nystrom and Dvorak combined for seven of Dallas' 16 goals in their 4-1-1 stretch before Saturday's loss. That game also cooled off goalie Andrew Raycroft, who had stopped 68 of 71 shots in two games after Kari Lehtonen went down, but allowed five goals on 27 shots to the Isles. … Before being kept off the board by the Wild, Logan Couture had three goals and an assist in his previous two games.
Injury Report: With Morrow, Daley and Goligoski on the mend, that leaves Adam Burish (hand) and Lehtonen (groin) still on injured reserve, though the trade is thought to open a spot for Burish when he's ready. … Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray missed Tuesday's game after blocking a shot with his hand against the Panthers on Saturday. He may be ready Thursday. Goalie Antero Niittymaki is still weeks away as he recovers from September hip surgery.
Stat Pack: One culprit in the Sharks' offensive drought is the power play, which is in a 1-for-14 funk over their last five games. For the Stars, getting more penalties than power plays had been an issue until recently, but they have shifted the balance back to 17 power plays as opposed to 15 shorthanded opportunities in their last six games.
Puck Drop: Few teams will be as affected by realignment as much as the Stars, who will trade rivalries with the California teams and Phoenix for new ones with teams closer to home.
"Yeah, it's an extremely drastic change for us in Dallas. We're obviously going to miss going to L.A., Anaheim, Phoenix and playing in the warm spots. But to be honest, the traveling is awful. All in all, it definitely makes things a lot easier on us," forward Steve Ott told the Stars' website. "The Eastern team guys are in their bed by 12, 1 o'clock every single night, which is a big difference when you're wasting days in a season."