DALLAS -- During their current two-game losing streak at American Airlines Center, the Dallas Stars (28-25-3, 59 points) have gotten off to slow starts in consecutive home losses to the Coyotes and Kings. That's a trend first-year coach Glen Gulutzan would like to see reverse itself tonight as the Calgary Flames (27-22-8, 62 points) visit the Lone Star State.
"I don't know if it's an epidemic here because we're starting slow at home and that's something we've addressed," Gulutzan said. "It seems when you're at home, there has to be a greater emphasis on making sure you're coming out. You have to test if your opponent's ready and a lot of times in the first 10 minutes if they're not, you can get an edge and make a team play uncomfortable the rest of the way. I think that's what we haven't done a good job of here. We're putting some focus into our starts here."
For Stars center Mike Ribeiro, having better starts at home boils down to a fairly simple formula.
"At times better starts just means scoring," Ribeiro said. "We just need to be simple -- dump pucks, get a good forecheck going, get some hits, really simplify our game and not try to do too much. We need to get our lines going and get our people involved in the game. The main thing is to just keep pushing the puck forward."
The Flames currently sit in the ninth spot in the Western Conference, two spots and three points ahead of the Stars, who are in 11th. Dallas heads into tonight's game two days removed from a 3-1 loss at Detroit on Tuesday, the Red Wings' 21st straight win at Joe Louis Arena, a new NHL record.
Tonight marks the first of four meetings this season between Calgary and Dallas, and given that these two clubs figure to be battling it out for one of the final playoff spots in the West from here on out, there's no understating how big this contest is for both sides.
"We're fighting for our lives. This is our playoffs. We're in a big race and we know it," Stars defenseman Mark Fistric said. "If you can get the fans into it early, get the first goal and let the other team chase us the rest of the game, that's when the other team starts to make mistakes and then you get two, three, four goals."
Fistric added: "Our main focus is to come out and have a really good first 10 minutes of the game, make sure we're doing all the right things, get a bounce, get one and go from there. I think too many times this year at home we've been behind the eight ball early and we're just chasing the game."
The term four-point game might be an overused cliché this time of year, but it's a label that definitely fits tonight.
"Yeah, obviously two points are important in every game, but this is a team we're going to see a lot here until the end of the year. It's important," Ribeiro said. "These are big points for us. It will be a good battle. You need to grind points and find a way to get points. It doesn't have to be pretty, but results are important right now. We need to get them, play a good 60 minutes and find a way to get some points."
Dallas returns to the road after tonight's game for a Saturday date in Phoenix. The Stars won't have back-to-back home games until Feb. 24, when they start a three-game homestand against the Wild.