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Lone game in Lone Star State

by Adam Schwartz

Marty Turco and the Dallas Stars go for their seventh-consecutive
win tonight against Fredrik Sjostrom and the Phoenix Coyotes.
There’s just one game in the NHL Monday night, but it has the makings of an action-packed contest.

The Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes begin a home-and-home series at 7 p.m. when the Coyotes visit the American Airlines Center in Dallas for the second of four games this season.

Here’s what to watch:

* After a surprising surge into a Western Conference playoff position, the Coyotes have just one win in five February games and have fallen to No. 11 in the conference. Phoenix, which has 60 points, currently is four points behind the Nashville Predators, who are in the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

* Phoenix’s 17-11-2 road record has kept the squad afloat this season, because the Coyotes have an 11-13-2 record at Jobing.com Arena in Phoenix. Monday marks the lone road game for the Coyotes in their current stretch of four of five games at home.

* The Coyotes and Stars, who play each other eight times this season, have not faced played each other since Nov. 8, when Phoenix defeated Dallas, 5-2. The two teams will play each other in this back-to-back set, which concludes in Phoenix on Thursday, and again on March 5 and April 4.

Mueller

* Coyotes center Peter Mueller, who leads NHL rookies with 19 goals, has a minus-5 rating in his last two games. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound center is averaging 17:01 of ice time, which is the highest among Phoenix centers.

* Phoenix right wing Radim Vrbata, who leads the team with 24 goals, has recorded a career-high 42 points. Vrbata is averaging 18:35 of ice time, which is second among Coyotes’ forwards.

* Coyotes captain Shane Doan only has played for the Phoenix franchise, including 74 games in his rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets, before the team moved to Arizona. Doan, who growing up, fashioned his game after former Boston star forward Cam Neely, leads the club with 36 assists and 54 points.

* Phoenix defenseman Keith Ballard, whose favorite movie is Goodfellas, is the only Coyotes backliner to have more than 100 hits, with 116.

* The Stars have won six straight games, but have won just one of their previous three meetings with the Coyotes this season.

* Dallas sits in first place in the Pacific Division with 73 points, and has a four-point edge against the second-place San Jose Sharks. The Sharks, however, have played four fewer games than the Stars.

* Dallas captain Brenden Morrow, who leads the team with nine power-play goals, has scored in four of his last five games. Morrow has scored a team-high 24 goals, which is just one fewer than his career-high of 25 he scored in 2003-04.

* The Stars are the only team in the League to have two players in the top 10 in hits – Brenden Morrow is fourth with 177 and defenseman Stepahane Robidas is seventh with 162.

Niskanen

* Dallas defenseman Matt Niskanen, whose plus-13 rating is the highest among Stars defensemen, also leads NHL rookies in that category. The No. 28 overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Niskanen has played at least 20 minutes in his last 14 games, and he’s averaging the fifth-most ice time among rookies at 20:02 per game.

* Stars left wing Jussi Jokinen, who was childhood friends with Edmonton Oilers defenseman Joni Pitkanen, has two goals and two assists for four points in his last five games.

* Dallas left wing Niklas Hagman’s last two goals were game-winners. Hagman scored the lone goal Thursday to give the Stars a 1-0 victory against the Minnesota Wild, and he followed with the game-winning goal Feb. 2 in the third period of the Stars 2-1 victory against the Calgary Flames.

* Stars goalie Mike Smith, who came into the season as the backup, has worked his way into half of a tandem role with Marty Turco. Smith has played in four of Dallas’ last 10 games, including the last two. Smith’s 2.43 goals-against average and .907 save percentage are just slightly less impressive than Turco’s 2.33 GAA and .910 save percentage.

* The Stars are 17-9-2 at home, but also have a solid 17-11-3 record away from American Airlines Center.

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