PREDATORS (16-17-4) at STARS (18-12-6)
TV: FS-TN, FS-SW
Last 10: Nashville 3-6-1; Dallas 5-3-2
Season series: This is the second game of the season between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars. The Predators defeated the Stars 3-1 Dec. 12 at Bridgestone Arena.
Big story: A recent hot streak by Dallas, coupled with cold spells from the Minnesota Wild and Phoenix Coyotes, has pulled the Stars into the hunt for one of the Western Conference's two wild card spots. If the Stars are to make a move, now could be the time. Dallas opens a five-game homestand Friday against a Predators team on a four-game winless streak.
Predators: Nashville went 0-3-1 in its four games before the NHL's annual Christmas break, scoring a total of eight goals.
More concerning for coach Barry Trotz is three of those four losses came at home. After Carter Hutton allowed two goals on the first four shots he saw Monday against the Boston Bruins, Nashville gained momentum in the third period before committing back-to-back penalties, including its third minor for too many men in the past four games. The Bruins responded with three goals in a 6-2 win.
"We clawed ourselves back in it … then we just got into penalty trouble. We killed ourselves, kind of killed the momentum," Predators forward Mike Fisher said. "The crowd was starting to get back into it, and we just let [the Bruins] back into it. It was our doing."
Stars: Dallas is the only team among the League's top 10 in goals per game not currently in position for a postseason berth, but that could be changing soon. The Stars are three points from the final wild card spot and with a 3-0-1 mark in their past four games carry momentum into what could be a pivotal homestand.
In the Stars' last game Monday, they scored five times against a Los Angeles Kings team which allows the fewest goals per game in the League. The Stars also defeated rookie goalie Martin Jones, who had won each of his first eight NHL starts.
"We feel real good about it," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We did a lot of good things tonight. We knew with the defense we had, young defense, we were going to have to weather a little bit of the storm. But I thought after we got through the first period, we really played good hockey."
Dallas is now an impressive 8-2-2 against the deep Pacific Division.
Who's hot: Predators center Craig Smith has four goals and an assist in his past three games. ... Stars forward Tyler Seguin continues to have an impressive season. He has 37 points in 34 games with four of them coming in his past three games.
Injury report: Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (hip infection) remains out, but is hoping to return after the New Year … Defenseman Sergei Gonchar (concussion-like symptoms) is likely out for Dallas. Defensemen Aaron Rome (lower body), Trevor Daley (ankle) and Stephane Robidas (broken leg) are all on injured reserve.