Originally posted on Stars of Big D  |  Last updated 12/29/11

Columbus Blue Jackets (9-22-5, 23 pts) @ Dallas Stars (20-14-1, 41 pts)

7:30 PM CT, December 29, 2011

American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas

If Kari Lehtonen wanted to try and ease his way back into the lineup, there might not be a better team to do that against than the Columbus Blue Jackets. Lethonen makes his long awaited return to the Stars lineup tonight after missing the past month (12 games) due to a groin injury. He gets some good news and bad news in his first game back.

The good news? His opponent tonight is the Columbus Blue Jackets, the worst team in the NHL. Columbus gives up the third most goals in the NHL, only in front of the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes and they score the fourth least goals in the NHL. Add those two together and the Blue Jackets have the worst goal differential in the league.

The Blue Jackets have been in a downward spiral since the first game of the season and it has gotten no better for them as the season has progressed (how is Scott Arniel still head coach?). Columbus has lost six straight games and gone 1-6-2 in the past 9 games and has only won three games this month, all in shootouts. Their two goalies, Scott Mason and Curtis Sanford, have yet to record a shutout this season and they both rank either in the middle of the pack or near the bottom of the league in both save percentage and G.A.A.

The bad news? Dallas has been limping along lately as they shuffle players in and out of the lineup due to injuries. Lehtonen returns tonight but they will be without two top defensemen in Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray. No matter what team you're up against, missing two of the top four defensemen on the team can only lead to trouble. Lehtonen could find himself back into the firing range very quickly tonight. While the Blue Jackets are a terrible offensive team, they do get a lot of shots onto the net. They are in the top-10 in NHL with 31.6 shots per game.

The Stars have alternated wins and losses in the past six games so if that trend continues, tonight should be win.

These two teams have played twice already this season. Dallas won both games, a 4-2 win at home and a 3-2 win on the road.

Unless a meteor hits his house, Kari Lehtonen gets the start tonight. Dallas will be without Souray (ankle), Robidas (foot), and Tomas Vincour (lower body).

The Blues look like they will start Steve Mason tonight. He started both of the previous two meetings against Dallas. He's 0-8-0 with a 4.80 GAA this year. Backup goalie Curtis Sanford has a hip/back problem and will be out for the game. Also out for the Blue Jackets: Radek Martinek (concussion) and Kristian Huselius (groin).

Notes:

  • Columbus has been deplorable all around this year, but their road numbers are especially bad. They are 3-12-2 on the road this year and give up the second most road goals in the NHL. Their 71 road goals allowed is only better than the Tampa Bay Lightning (75 road goals allowed).
  • Columbus has the worst PK percentage on the road in the entire league. They are only 66.7% successful on the kill. Their road power-play is actually okay. They're in the middle of the pack with a 16.4% success rate.
  • Dallas has allowed at least two power-play goals in four straight games, which I can't remember happening before. The PK unit has hit roack bottom and losing two top defensemen doesn't help at all.
  • The Stars PP in the past five games? 2 for 17 (11.7%). Special teams has absolutely killed the Stars in the past few weeks. It's a wonder that they've been able to win any games at all.
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