The Dallas Stars are five points out of the final playoff spot with 10 games on their schedule. They have two games in hand on Phoenix, which currently holds the final spot in the Western Conference. That’s the big picture, but the Stars are trying to stay focused on the smaller picture and that’s dealing with what’s directly in front of them.
“Taking them one game at a time and really focusing on the game that you’re playing and getting the job done,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “There’s small areas outside of every game we’re going to have to improve, but it’s trying to make a difference in special teams, playing the way we’ve been most effective and taking advantage of our good opportunities in the game.”
Tonight’s task is Nashville. The Predators are basically out of the playoff picture, but they have been playing well lately. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, including a 6-1 win over Buffalo last night. With the Predators playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Stars will be looking for a strong start.
“I’d like to see us score. I’d like to see us play well,” Ruff said with a smile. “Execution with the puck, Nashville’s a pretty good team at taking time and space away, so you’re going to have to make quick plays. We’re going to have to beat their guys off the wall on the offensive zone, get back to the net in a hurry. It’s a little bit different game, a little bit more one-on-one game when you’re playing them versus kind of a collapse game. So early on, you’re going to have to beat your one-on-one match.”
Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars, so it looks like he’ll be in goal tonight. Aaron Rome looks like he’ll be in on defense after being a scratch the last game. Ray Whitney, who missed Thursday’s practice due to illness, skated this morning and will be a game-time decision tonight.
“We’re going to dress an extra guy [for warm ups],” Ruff said. “Depending on if he gets a good meal in him and feels well tonight, energy level’s a big deal. He wasn’t feeling well yesterday and was sick but is feeling a lot better today.”
If Whitney is unable to play, Chris Mueller, who was called up from the Texas Stars yesterday, is available.
Erik Cole, who has missed the last three games with an upper body injury, did not skate this morning and is out tonight.
Kevin Connauton was the last player off the ice at today’s skate and is expected to be the scratch on defense.
Nashville didn’t skate this morning. Carter Hutton was in goal last night, so Pekka Rinne is the likely starter tonight.
Who: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Ray Whitney – Dustin Jeffrey – Alex Chiasson
Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Brenden Dillon
Aaron Rome – Sergei Gonchar
Injured: Erik Cole (upper body), Rich Peverley (irregular heartbeat)
Scratches: Kevin Connauton, Chris Mueller
Predators projected lineup
Matt Cullen – Mike Fisher – Patric Hornqvist
Eric Nystrom – Colin Wilson – Nick Spaling
Gabriel Bourque – Calle Jarnkrok – Craig Smith
Richard Clune – Colton Sissons – Viktor Stalberg
Roman Josi – Shea Weber
Michael Del Zotto – Victor Bartley
Mattias Ekholm – Ryan Ellis
Injured: Patrick Eaves (lower body), Paul Gaustad (upper body), Seth Jones (concussion)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.