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Stars, rival Jets getting quite familiar in 'mini playoff series'

The two division foes face off three times in 15 days, including a home-and-home that opens tonight in Winnipeg

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
Stars (15-10-3) vs. Jets (16-10-1)

7 p.m., Bell MTS Place

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

 

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- If familiarity breeds competition, then this might be the most intense part of the Stars' schedule. Not only are they finishing up a stretch of seven (of eight) games against Central Division rivals, the will be playing the Winnipeg Jets three times in 15 days, including in consecutive games.

If you want to stretch this back to mid-November, we were just in Winnipeg three weeks ago, and now we're back.

It really should be fun.

Mix in the fact that both the Stars and Jets are sitting pretty much dead even in the standings, with Winnipeg having 33 points in 27 games and Dallas having 33 points in 28 games, and you have two pretty big games Tuesday and Thursday.

"It's a little mini playoff series," said Stars center Tyler Seguin. "We're looking forward to it, and I'm sure they are too. After these two games, the standings are going to be a little different."

Dallas lost to the Jets in Winnipeg Nov. 10 in a shootout, and then beat the Jets at home Nov. 21, 5-3. Once these next two games are over, these two divisional rivals don't meet again until March 22 in Dallas, so these games mean a lot.

Video: DAL@WPG: Seguin previews matchup with Winnipeg

"These are big divisional games with important points on the line," said defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. "They're a skilled team, but they also got some size on them, so it's a good match-up for us."

Dallas is 5-3-2 against the Central and 11-3-3 in the West. Winnipeg is 4-2-0 vs. the Central and 11-6-0 against the West.

The two teams are going through similar battles. The Jets have lost a lot of their defensemen in the past season, so they are becoming a more defense-oriented team to make up for it. As a result, the team has gone from 15th in GAA at 2.96 to seventh at 2.78. In the process, however, they have gone from seventh in scoring at 3.29 goals per game to 21st at 2.78.

Blake Wheeler had 91 points (20 goals, 71 assists) in 82 games last season. He has 18 (six goals, 12 assists) in 27 this season. Patrik Laine had 30 goals in 82 games last season. He has six in 25 this year.

The Stars are in a similar boat, as the leading players have been dealing with some scoring slumps, so they know how hard it is to score right now.

"It's hockey today," said Stars leading scorer Tyler Seguin, who has 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 28 games. "It's fun scoring goals and getting points and I've definitely been there in the past where it's all you think about. But through experience, it's not really what works. It's not one or two guys who get you the Stanley Cup final, it's the whole team, rolling four lines when everyone's tired. It's more of a mental thing now. You still obviously want to produce, and you have to produce, but it's defense first."

 

What to watch

Both goalies are playing great, and that's one of the reasons Dallas ranks third in goals against and Winnipeg ranks seventh. Anton Khudobin will start in net for the Stars, with Ben Bishop likely going Thursday when the two teams meet in Dallas.

While technically the team's back-up, Khudobin is 6-4-1 with a 2.14 goals against average and .931 save percentage. He ranks fourth in the NHL in GAA, while Bishop ranks fifth at 2.20. Khudobin ranks fourth in save percentage, while Bishop ranks ninth.

Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck is 13-7-1 with a 2.23 GAA and .933 save percentage. He ranks sixth in GAA and second in save percentage. Hellebuyck could play both games against the Stars as he's coming off of a game off and played six in a row before his break.

Video: DAL@WPG: Montgomery on 'mini playoff series' vs. Jets

 

Lineup updates

Khudobin comes in for the Stars.

He stopped 35 of 37 shots in a 3-0 loss in Chicago last week and was in net for the overtime loss at Winnipeg Nov. 10. He stopped 26 in that game.

In his career against the Jets, Khudobin is 0-2-2 with a 2.97 GAA and .895 save percentage.

 

[GAME DAY GUIDE: Everything you need to know for Stars' matchup with Jets]

 

Lines stay the same, but it will be interesting to see if Jim Montgomery tries to tweak during the game.

The Stars have scored just three goals in their 0-2-1 slump and have some players in droughts. Joe Pavelski has been held scoreless in eight straight games, and Denis Gurianov also has no points in his past eight. Radek Faksa followed an eight-game scoring streak with a five-game drought, and Corey Perry followed a three-assist game with a five-game drought.

The top line of Jamie Benn, Seguin and Alexander Radulov has one assist in the past three games.

 
By the numbers
62

The Jets last season were shorthanded 250 times, ranking 23rd in the NHL. This year, they are first with the fewest times shorthanded at 62. It's a good thing they are, because they rank 24th in killing penalties at 74.8 percent.

 

17

Jets winger Patrik Laine has 17 goals in 15 career games against the Stars. That includes two in two games this season.

 

43

Stars center Tyler Seguin has 43 points (24 goals, 19 assists) in 38 career games against the Jets. That includes one goal in two games this season.

 

He said it

"We knew at the start of the year that our division was going to be a good division. Teams are starting to play well. You can see that everyone's starting to tighten up their checking. That's when we're at our best, is when we're playing good defensive hockey and we're creating chances that way."

-- Stars winger Blake Comeau on a stretch of five straight games against Central Division opponents

 

Stars projected lineup

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov

Denis Gurianov - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski

Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau

Mattias Janmark - Jason Dickinson - Corey Perry

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen

Andrej Sekera - Roman Polak

Anton Khudobin

Ben Bishop

Scratched: D Taylor Fedun, C Justin Dowling

Injured: D Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches), C Martin Hanzal (back)

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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