BLUE JACKETS (5-12-2) VS. STARS (9-8-1)**
NATIONWIDE ARENA | COLUMBUS, OH
7 P.M. TONIGHT
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO (HD) | RADIO: 97.1 FM & BLUEJACKETS.COM
The Dallas Stars may be battered and metaphorically limping into Columbus tonight, but they're doing whatever they can to stay in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Entering last night's game against the Predators at Bridgestone Arena, the Stars had evenly split their first 18 contests (9-8-1) and held a "regulation/overtime wins" tiebreaker over the Phoenix Coyotes for that coveted eighth playoff spot. With a new owner in Tom Gaglardi and exciting offseason additions, the Stars looked every bit like a club ready to take a big step forward and have weathered the storm despite several injuries to key players.
Ray Whitney, Kari Lehtonen, Trevor Daley, Derek Roy, Jarmoir Jagr...those are just a few of the names to miss time for Dallas this season and they're expecting AHL call-ups to fill some of the void left by players currently out of the lineup. Lehtonen is currently on injured reserve and has been deemed questionable to play against the Blue Jackets, while Daley was activated off IR and played last night in Nashville after missing two games with a neck injury. One-time Blue Jackets defenseman Aaron Rome was placed on IR by the Stars on Monday, and he's unavailable for tonight's game.
Despite the lineup shuffling and injury turmoil, the Stars have played some solid hockey. They've won four of their last five games away from American Airlines Center, and the most recent was a 4-3 nail-biter against the Vancouver Canucks on Feb 15. With their No. 1 goaltender on the shelf, the Stars have had received good goaltending work from Christopher Nilstorp, a 29-year-old rookie from Malmo, Sweden who picked up his first career win over San Jose on Saturday night. Though the Stars aren't sure how much longer they'll need Nilstorp to carry the mail between the pipes, he was slated to start last night in Nashville and could conceivably play in Columbus tonight if Lehtonen is unable to play.
Another thing helping Dallas' cause is its offense, which has scored at least three goals in nine consecutive games and 10 of its last 11 overall. Jamie Benn has led the charge, accumulating 12 points (six goals, six assists) in those nine games. The six goals in that span have vaulted him into the Stars' goal-scoring lead with veteran sniper Michael Ryder, who's off to a quick start in his second season in Dallas.
- Entering last night's game, the Stars had the NHL's sixth-best road penalty kill at 87 percent efficiency. They had killed of 40-of-46 opposition power plays in that stretch.
- The Stars have used a three-headed goaltending monster this season, and all three netminders have recorded at least one victory for Dallas. Lehtonen (7-2-1) leads the way, while Nilstorp and Richard Bachman have one win apiece.
- Columbus owns the league's 10th-best penalty kill overall, and has been fairly consistent from home (84.2 percent) to the road (82.9).
- The Blue Jackets recalled Cody Goloubef from Springfield yesterday and re-assigned center Sean Collins. Goloubef has played five games with Columbus this season and scored his first NHL goal on Feb. 11 vs. San Jose.
RIGHT WING | #68
2013 STATS: 5-8-13, 17 GP
Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk was looking for ways to improve his club's offense this offseason, so he signed two of the bigger-name free agents on the market in Jagr and Ray Whitney. Both 40 years of age, neither has shown signs of slowing down in the latter stages of their careers, and Jagr has been both durable and productive. He's tied with Benn for the Stars scoring lead (13 points) and has been a go-to weapon on the power play -- which is no surprise for the big Czech. Jagr has scored 30-or-more goals a remarkable 14 times in his storied NHL career.
COLUMBUS: Jack Johnson (upper body); IR, Artem Anisimov (upper body), day-to-day; Brandon Dubinsky (knee), IR
DALLAS: Aaron Rome (foot), IR; Philip Larsen (upper body), day-to-day; Kari Lehtonen (groin), questionable; Ray Whitney (foot), out