BLUE JACKETS (1-3-1) VS. STARS (2-2-1)
NATIONWIDE ARENA | COLUMBUS, OHIO
7 P.M. TONIGHT
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO (HD) | RADIO: 97.1 FM & BLUEJACKETS.COM
The Dallas Stars could very well be one of the NHL's most intriguing teams this season, and for a multitude of reasons.
Recent ownership troubles and bankruptcy are finally in the past and they're led by a passionate owner in Tom Gaglardi, who is looking to re-energize the Stars fanbase and put the franchise on the fast track back to sustained success. They have a young, intelligent coach in Glen Gulutzan who plied his trade in the American Hockey League before impressing GM Joe Nieuwendyk and getting the call to the show in 2011. There's also a solid presence between the pipes once again, as Kari Lehtonen has assumed the No. 1 job in goal after the Stars parted ways with Marty Turco.
But the biggest Stars news came down only in the past few days, as star center Jamie Benn finally put ink to a new five-year contract and has rejoined the club in time for tonight's game in Columbus (provided immigration paperwork is finalized). The former fifth-round pick has developed into one of the NHL's premier young players and getting him under contract was the top priority for the Stars, who can now breathe a sigh of relief and get going with their full roster.
They bulked up the offense with a flurry of offseason activity, as well. Dallas added Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, a pair of 40-year-old offensive wizards (no pun intended) to the mix during free agency and acquired Derek Roy from Buffalo in exchange for rugged forward Steve Ott, instantly upgrading the club's skill level. Loui Eriksson, Michael Ryder and Tom Wandell -- already part of the Stars' forward group -- will likely benefit from playing with established NHLers like Jagr and Whitney while continuing their already-strong careers.
Dallas is sturdy in its bottom six, as well, with veterans Vernon Fiddler, Eric Nystrom and captain Brenden Morrow holding down spots and several youngsters ready to make the push. One of the Stars' goals was to create balance in the lineup, and the summer roster moves have them on track toward doing just that.
Alex Goligoski is the big gun on the blue line for Dallas and he came over from Pittsburgh two years ago in the James Neal trade. Steady veteran Stephane Robidas always eats a ton of minutes, as does two-way defender Trevor Daley. The next wave of defensemen in Dallas is an encouraging group with names like Jordie Benn (Jamie's brother), Philip Larsen, and Brendan Dillon fighting for roster spots.
After winning two of their first three games, the Stars have dropped back-to-back contests on home ice to Chicago and St. Louis. This is their first of two straight road games, as they will face Detroit tomorrow night at Joe Louis Arena.
- After a 4-for-4 performance against the Blackhawks on Saturday, the Blue Jackets' penalty kill has climbed to fourth-best in the NHL (90.0 percent), killing off 18 of 20 opposition power plays in the first five games.
- The Blue Jackets put 22 hits on the Blackhawks, bumping their season total to 131. That's tied for second-most in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's a big part of Columbus getting opponents back on their heels, especially in the first period.
- Jack Johnson (26:55 vs. CHI) and James Wisniewski (28:21 vs. CHI) are now both top-five in the NHL in total minutes played. Johnson ranks second in the league with 134:33 TOI on the year, while Wisniewski ranks fourth with 128:00.
- Ryan Johansen leads the Blue Jackets in face-off win percentage at 52.5 percent on the year. He won 8-of-14 draws on Saturday night against Chicago.
CENTER | #14
2011-12 STATS: 26-37-63, 71 GP
The Stars were hopeful that Benn could one day grow into a top-end player with a bit of power forward in his game, and at age 23, he's headed in that direction. Benn has increased his point totals in each of his three NHL seasons to date (41, 56, 63) and is poised for an even bigger season in 2013 due to Dallas' offseason pickups and a ton of confidence from the No. 1 center role.
COLUMBUS: Cam Atkinson (lower body), IR retroactive to Jan. 23
DALLAS: Jaromir Jagr (back), probable; Derek Roy (groin), questionable