Happy Hockey Day Minnesota Wilderness! Tonight's game is a late 8pm start, but with a day full of hockey lined up, who can really complain?
Darcy Kuemper is in net, Jonathon Blum was sent back to Iowa. The Wild line-up should stay the same. Zach Parise is targeting next week as a possible return to the team, and Jared Spurgeon isn't far behind him (he took to the ice before Wild practice today).
For today's game preview, we chatted with Tony from Stars Insider to get a sneak peek at what the Wild can expect tonight.
1.) Minnesota and Dallas haven't seen each other since the beginning of the season. How has Dallas changed their game since then?
Dallas has gotten softer. In fact, since Antoine Roussel was benched against the New Jersey Devils last week, he hasn't taken a penalty. I fear because Lindy Ruff scratched Roussel because of his penalties, Antoine has changed his playing style and he's been our spark plug all season. Perhaps the biggest change fans can expect today is the splitting up of the top line of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
2.) Tyler Seguin started the season off with tons of scoring, but has cooled off as of late. Who has stepped up to fill that void?
I think Eric Cole has been perhaps our most consistent scorer during this 7 losses out of the first 8 games of 2014. He has 3 goals in the last 8 games and Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt each have 2. The 2nd line of Garbutt/Eakin/Roussel (at least the 2nd line as it was prior to tonight) has the most tenacity of any of the other 3 lines, constantly producing quality scoring chances and wearing down opponents.
3.) Coming in to tonight's game, what are biggest concerns for Stars fans?
The power play. The Stars sit 29th in the league at 13.1%. Ironically, however, during the 7/8 losses to start the calendar year, the Stars are 4 out of 23 on their power play which is slightly better than what they've been at the rest of the year (17.4%). Outside of that, the defense has been nothing short of atrocious. With the injuries to key players (Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley working his way back) along with the lack of physicality, the defense does not instill fear in other teams and opponents can just skate the puck into the Stars' zone and have their way.
4.) What has the goaltending situation been like for Dallas? What can Wild fans expect to see?
Wild fans can expect a heavy dose of Kari Lehtonen. These next three games (two against Minnesota and Nashville in the middle) are vital to the Stars playoff chances. Despite dropping 7 out of their last 8, those 7 losses have all been to the Eastern Conference. Because of the magnitude of the game, hockey fans can expect to see Kari Lehtonen in the next three games. Lehtonen has been his standard solid self in the crease, however he has let in a larger amount of soft goals as of late. Far too often, it appears as if Kari is trying to compensate for his out-of-position defense and teams are showing amazing patience and take advantage of half-empty nets.
Some are saying if the Stars are going to have a legit shot at making the postseason for the first time in 5 years, Dallas needs to sweep Minnesota this week, and beating the Predators can't hurt either. Dallas needs to turn up the physicality and simplify the game to stand a chance.