The Dallas Stars have been a tough team to figure out this season.
They’ve had stretches where they weren’t very good at all, starting the season with a record of 8-11-4 through the end of November. They’ve also had stretches where they looked great, winning 10 times in a 14-game stretch in January and February.
As the Hurricanes find them tonight for their first and only meeting of the season, they’re in another down period. They’ve won only two of their last 10 games, and are fading fast from the Western Conference playoff race. If they lose to the Canes tonight, it will be their seventh straight at home, setting a new franchise record in that department.
The Stars also have several players out due to injury, including Mark Parrish, Fabian Brunnstrom, Jere Lehtinen, Toby Peterson, Brad Richards, Sergei Zubov and Brendan Morrow. The Canes are missing just Scott Walker and perhaps Joni Pitkanen, who left early after taking a big hit during last night’s game in Chicago – hopefully we’ll get word on his status from the morning skate.
As recent opponents of the Hurricanes know, teams in fights for their playoff lives are often the toughest to play against at this point of the season. Although Dallas is only one point out of the eighth seed in the west and falls into that category, this is still a game the Hurricanes need to win.
Their biggest obstacle in that regard will be fatigue - tonight’s game is the fifth in seven nights with a good bit of travel thrown in. The good news is that the Hurricanes are 10-2-0 in the second half of back-to-back games this season, showing that the wear and tear hasn’t affected them as much as you might think.
Along with news on Pitkanen, I’ll be interested to see what Paul Maurice does with his goaltending. Before leaving on the trip, he mentioned the staff would make a decision on whether or not to use Michael Leighton sometime on the trip depending on the workload Cam Ward faced in Chicago. I would say that 41 shots, not to mention four more in the shootout, qualify as a pretty heavy workload. It’s possible Ward may get a rest tonight.
One other stat to look out for, although it’s not the type I usually pay much attention to – the Hurricanes’ franchise hasn’t won in Dallas since the Whalers beat them 5-3 on February 11, 1995.