DALLAS -- The Stars are in dire need of an emotional answer tonight.
Dallas is in an 0-3-1 slump and played what coach Jim Montgomery called its worst game of the year Tuesday in a 5-1 loss at Winnipeg. Not only were the Stars overwhelmed in the game, they failed to respond when they had several opportunities to push back.
The Jets scored 13 seconds into the game, but that goal was disallowed because of an offside violation. Dallas was down just 1-0 after the first intermission because Anton Khudobin was fantastic. And Miro Heiskanen scored a great goal with 2:01 left in the second period to cut the deficit to 3-1. In each instance, the Stars could have made a real statement that they wanted to fight for a win. However, in each instance, the Jets showed more poise and passion.
So after sitting on the loss for a day, this rematch will be a real test of the team's mettle.
"It's a chance to respond, right?" Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "The Jets were great, we were awful, and it's a division game and we've lost four in a row in division games. It's time to assert ourselves and get back in the picture here."
Video: WPG@DAL: Cogliano previews important matchup vs. Jets
So how do players and coaches do that? Captain Jamie Benn said the first step was absorbing the pain post-game and on Wednesday, and then preparing on Thursday.
"It hits you in the gut after the game," Benn said. "For this morning, it starts mentally. You just start getting focused pretty quick because we need these points."
The Stars are 15-11-3, good for 33 points. The Jets are 17-10-1, good for 35. If Dallas gets swept in this little mini-series, it falls back further from the Jets and also could end a five-game stretch against Central Division teams at 0-4-1. That's big not only in the sense of an extended streak that needs to be addressed, it actually really hurts in the team's quest for a playoff spot.
"We've got to get back to that consistent Dallas Stars hockey that we've been doing before," said Stars forward Tyler Seguin. "Obviously, we don't want to get into that slump that we had early on. It's four in a row, and we're only going to get out of this together, so we're looking forward to doing that."
What to watch
Justin Dowling is back in the lineup after two healthy scratches, and he jumps right back in as the No. 1 center between Seguin and Benn.
It's been an odd season for the 29-year-old who has just 40 NHL games under his belt. He earned his promotion to the top line Nov. 13 and responded with four points in four games. He then had to sit out two games because of an upper-body injury, and then came back and centered Benn and Seguin for one game before getting scratched twice.
With the Stars struggling now, Dowling could very much be a part of the solution.
"He gets them the puck with time and space," Montgomery said. "He's a real good puck decision guy through the neutral zone, which leads to good entries. Their best offensive games for 91 and 14 have been when he's been at the center position with them."
In a five-game run from Nov. 13 to Nov. 21, Dowling had three goals and an assist, Seguin had three goals and four assists, and Benn had four goals and three assists.
"He's a great, simple, two-way player," Benn said. "He's smart, you can play him on any line in any position, power play, PK. He's a good fit between me and Segs, he can keep us honest out there."
Video: DAL@WPG: Benn says Stars must 'bring a better effort'
Bishop in net; Radulov a healthy scratch
Ben Bishop will be back in net for the Stars. He is 9-6-2 on the year with a 2.20 GAA and .928 save percentage. In his career against the Jets, Bishop is 8-4-1 with a 2.35 GAA and .921 save percentage.
The Stars are making Alexander Radulov a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Radulov has 15 minor penalties, second-most in the NHL, and two of his penalties led to key power play goals in losses against Minnesota and Winnipeg.
Stars coach Jim Montgomery said he is just doing what is best for the team.
"I let him know in advance today that he wasn't going to be dressing tonight," Montgomery said. "Rads is an elite player in this league. This is an opportunity for him to watch and then get back in the lineup and help our team win hockey games."
The coaching staff also shuffled its defense pairs, and it will be interesting to watch Jamie Oleksiak (6-foot-7, 255 pounds) and Roman Polak (6-2, 240) together on the third pairing. Montgomery was asked if he considered playing Taylor Fedun, who is second amongst Stars defensemen in assists with seven and second also among defensemen in SAT (shot attempt differential at even strength) at plus-19, but is smaller at 6-1, 200.
"It was really close," Montgomery said of the decision to possibly return Fedun to the lineup after three healthy scratches. "We discussed it as a staff, and in the end, this is a big heavy lineup we're playing against and we think we need as big a D-corps as we need to have success.
"But, absolutely, it was a discussion, and it wasn't an easy decision."
Video: WPG@DAL: Montgomery on what Stars expect against Jets
By the numbers
That's the span of days in which the Stars and Jets will play four games. The two Central Division rivals play just once more time this season -- March 22 in Winnipeg. That's 108 days away.
Jets winger Patrik Laine has 18 goals in 16 career games against the Stars. That includes three in three games this season.
The Stars won just 34 percent of their faceoffs against the Jets Tuesday in Winnipeg, a stat that Montgomery said was an indicator the team wasn't very competitive. Dallas ranks third in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage at 51.8 percent. Winnipeg is fifth at 51.7 percent.
He said it
"I wish we played 82 against those guys, because I'd have a lot of goals. … It just seems like it goes in. Don't have any explanation. Thank God they're in our division."
-- Jets forward Patrik Laine, who has 18 goals in 16 career games against the Stars
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn - Justin Dowling - Tyler Seguin
Mattias Janmark - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Denis Gurianov - Jason Dickinson - Corey Perry
Esa Lindell - Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera - John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak - Roman Polak
Scratched: D Taylor Fedun, RW Alexander Radulov
Injured: D Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches), C Martin Hanzal (back).
Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Winnipeg Jets when they return home to American Airlines Center tonight. Get your tickets now!
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.