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GAME DAY: at Dallas

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

  Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Dallas Stars
RECORDS - CBJ: 9-22-5 (Road: 3-12-2), DAL: 20-14-1 (Home: 7-10-2)
WHEN: Dec. 29, 2011 - 8:30 p.m.   |   WHERE: American Airlines Center
FOX Sports Ohio (HD)  |  LISTEN: 97.1 The Fan &

GAME DAY ON THE ROAD presented by:

Despite losing their No. 1 goaltender to injury and having to dig down their depth chart to get scoring, the Dallas Stars have kept themselves afloat in the Western Conference playoff picture. Kari Lehtonen, who currently owns a 13-4-1 record as the Stars top netminder, has been sidelined since Nov. 26 with a lower-body injury but is expected to make his return tonight against the Blue Jackets.

Since being acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers in a Feb. 2010 trade, Lehtonen has assumed the reins in Dallas and back-stopped the Stars to stingy goals-against averages.

One would have thought the Stars may struggle without Lehtonen, but thankfully, GM Joe Nieuwendyk has assembled quite the goaltending pipeline. Dallas recalled Richard Bachman from Texas (AHL) the day after Lehtonen went on IR, and he became the first goaltender in Stars franchise history to win his first three career NHL starts. Bachman went on to start the next seven games for Dallas, posting a 5-2-0 record and a 2.76 goals-against average.

For the Blue Jackets to have success against the Stars tonight, they need to carry over the five-man game they played Tuesday night vs. Calgary and apply it in Dallas. Coach Scott Arniel said he plans to keep his top lines together for tonight’s game, and wants to see how they handle the tight-checking Stars.

Arniel thought Lehtonen was the difference in a 3-2 Stars win at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 18, and his 38 saves back up that statement. The Blue Jackets must also deal with a Stars lineup that can generate offense from any of its four lines, and that’s been a trademark of coach Glen Gulutzan’s team so far this year.

The Stars have five players with at least 25 points and Jamie Benn leads the way at 32 (9G ,23 A). Free-agent pickup Michael Ryder is following a solid run to the Stanley Cup last summer with a team-leading total of 14 goals for the Stars. Dallas is without defensemen Sheldon Souray and Stephane Robidas for up to two weeks due to injuries.

Carter, Nash (10) Ryder (14)
Prospal (20) Benn (23)
Prospal (27) Benn (32)
Dorsett (78) Ott (79)
MacKenzie (+8) Three tied (+9)
Sanford (5-6-3)
Lehtonen (13-4-1)
Sanford (2.66) Lehtonen (2.34)
Sanford (.908) Lehtonen (.926)
• Columbus looks to rebound from a recent stretch that has seen the club go 1-6-2 its last nine games. The club snapped a season-long five game regulation losing streak with Tuesday’s shootout loss to Calgary.

• Tonight marks the third of four meetings overall and second of two meetings at American Airlines Center this season between the Blue Jackets and Stars. Columbus is 13-24-5 all-time against Dallas, including a 6-13-2 mark at American Airlines Center. The Stars have won three-straight meetings between the clubs.

• The Blue Jackets have power play goals in five of the last eight games (8-of-32, 25.0 percent) after going 1-for-22 (4.5 percent) the previous six games.

Derek MacKenzie has been “Mr. Plus” for the Blue Jackets this season, and he’s putting up points as well: he has collected 1-4-5 the last 12 games after being held to 1-0-1 the previous 13 games. He has been plus or even in 33 of 36 games this season, including being +1 against the Blackhawks Monday to improve to a team-high +8 on the season.

Mark Letestu has assists in back-to-back games after notching a helper on Brassard’s goal Tuesday against Calgary. He has assists in three of the last seven games after going without an assist the previous 24 games. He has collected 1-3-4 the last seven games after being held to 2-0-2 the previous 12 games.


LW - #20
  6 Goals
  12 Assists
  18 Points

• One of the more well-known agitators in the NHL, Ott has taken on a longer role this season under Gulutzan. He has played left wing and center for the Stars, and has points in five of the last six games (1-4-5 in that stretch).

D Radek Martinek (concussion); indefinitely
LW Kristian Huselius (lower body); indefinitely

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