After seeing their 11-game point streak end with a thud in a 5-2 loss at Winnipeg on Wednesday, the Dallas Stars
(39-27-5, 83 points) now look to rebound as the Chicago Blackhawks
(38-25-8, 84 points) visit American Airlines Center for the second time this season.
Tonight's game begins a crucial four-game homestand for Dallas, a run of games that will see the Stars also face Phoenix, Vancouver and Calgary before they head out for a four-game road trip to end the month of March.
"That word big comes before every game for the next 11, right?" first-year Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "I think the focal point is they [Chicago] are a point ahead of us here. I know they're not in our division. Two points is two points and it's going to be a real tough game."
Gulutzan wasn't hesitant in saying No. 1 netminder Kari Lehtonen
would get the start not only against the Blackhawks, but also for the entire homestand.
"I think for any team right now, the goaltending becomes a real big factor," he said. "There's a big spotlight on your goalie now and the other team's goalie. Kari's rested. He's going to get tonight and he's going to get the next four games. It's important, and we feel we've got a better chance than most people because we've got Kari Lehtonen
Lehtonen is 8-0-1 with a 1.29 goals-against-average and a .955 save percentage in his last nine starts for the Stars.
After arriving back in the Lone Star State early Thursday morning, Gulutzan gave his players a day off on Thursday before a morning skate on Friday morning at the arena.
Dallas will be without veteran winger Radek Dvorak
and defenseman Sheldon Souray
, who are both out with lower-body injuries. However, they should be ready to return by Tuesday, when the Stars will host the Coyotes.
"They both should be ready for Tuesday. They won't be tonight though," Gulutzan said.
And rookie defenseman Philip Larsen
will be a game-time decision after suffering a knee injury in Wednesday's road loss to the Jets. Larsen did return in the second period but remains day-to-day. If he can't go, then fellow rookie Jordie Benn
, older brother of Stars All-Star center Jamie Benn
, will get the start.
"He'll be a game-time decision and if not, Jordie Benn
will go in. We're very comfortable with Lars, but very more than capable of Jordie Benn
to go in if we need him," Gulutzan said.
Some might wonder if there are any lingering effects from Wednesday's streak-ending loss to the Jets, but Stars winger Steve Ott
said any such concerns are off base.
"Those games happen. I truthfully believe that. I can't even really imagine the loss as much as how good we've been playing of late in the 10 games before that," Ott said. "I think taking the confidence that we've built in the last little while will be key for tonight."