The Dallas Stars
have been riding high lately. A four-game winning streak will do that and tonight at American Airlines Center the Stars (33-26-4, 70 points), who currently sit eighth in the Western Conference standings and five points out of the lead in the Pacific Division, will look to equal their season-long winning streak of five games, set back in October 2011 as part of an 11-4-0 start.
These teams have already met once this season, back on Nov. 11 in Pittsburgh, and it was Dan Bylsma
's Penguins who came away with a 3-1 win. Several things about that game continue to stick in the mind of Stars first-year coach Glen Gulutzan.
"I thought they were a well-oiled machine," Gulutzan said. "I thought we played them well through the first half of that game. Then, they got a power-play goal and it was tied at 1-1 going into the third. They know their jobs, they work real hard and they play their systems to a tee."
Tonight's contest will mark the return of Stars All-Star center Jamie Benn
to the ice after missing the last six games with a leg injury. Benn will return to his customary spot centering the second line alongside Steve Ott
and Adam Burish
, but will play less than 20 minutes in his first game since Feb. 16 against Calgary.
"I feel good," Benn said. "Excited for tonight, it's a big game for our team. It should be an exciting one. You want to get back in there and help your team out to try and make a strong push for the playoffs. There's two big points on the line tonight and we need them."
Even after missing much of February, Benn is still second on the Stars in points with 49, and his 32 assists are third-most on the club.
Dallas is 8-6-2 against the Eastern Conference this year and during their current four-game winning streak, the Stars have outscored their last four foes (Montreal, Chicago, Minnesota and Vancouver) by a combined 13-4.
Gulutzan's club is just 1-5-1 in its last seven against the Pens -- but that one win came in Dallas on Nov. 3, 2010, a 5-2 victory.
"They're a good team. They are all definitely on the same page and they play for each other. That combined with skill is a dangerous mix," Stars winger Eric Nystrom
said. "We've got the same type of team in here. We're going to work as hard as we possibly can tonight, play our game plan and if we do that, the result should be good."
Dallas' top line of Loui Eriksson
, Mike Ribeiro
and Michael Ryder
has combined for 40 points in the 15 games since the NHL All-Star break. That matchup between the Stars' top group and the Pens' first line of Chris Kunitz
, Evgeni Malkin
and ex-Star James Neal
figures to be one to watch, but the man behind the Dallas bench chooses to put his focus elsewhere.
"We'll be more interested in our defensive matchups against them. Obviously, they have an elite, elite player over there [in Malkin] and we're going to have to be mindful of that tonight," Gulutzan said. "To our guys, it's our game that's our focal point, for sure."