Originally written on Stars of Big D  |  Last updated 3/20/12

Phoenix Coyotes (36-26-11, 83 pts) @ Dallas Stars (39-28-5, 83 pts)

7:00 PM CT, March 20, 2012

American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas

It's all in the Stars hands now. Game 73 of the season and the Stars hold the division lead and the third spot in the Western Conference by the slimmest of margins. The Stars and Coyotes enter tonight's game tied in points but Dallas holds the edge in the standings due to tiebreakers (Dallas has three more regulation and overtime wins).

The Stars are not exactly riding a wave of confidence though. They've lost the last two games in embarrassing fashion, getting blown out of the water by both the Winnipeg Jets and the Chicago Blackhawks. Poor starts have plagued the Stars in those losses. Against the Jets, the Stars were under constant pressure, allowed a goal in the first two minutes of the game and could never recover. In their last game, the Stars allowed the Blackhawks to score a goal just ten seconds into the game and then allowed a second goal just one minute later. The Coyotes aren't exactly offensive wizards so Dallas cannot allow them to get on the board quickly tonight.

Dallas will get a boost tonight as Sheldon Souray and Radek Dvorak should both return from their injury woes. Souray returning is particularly big because Adam Pardy has been terrible while trying to handle the increase in minutes. The last two games were the first times in one month that Pardy had 19+ minutes of time on ice and he responded with a -4 rating and all around bad defensive play. Dvorak's return will stabilize the lines and return all the guys to their normal spots.

Kari Lehtonen gets the nod tonight. He's 2-1-1 in the season series with a 2.11 GAA and a .934 save percentage. He started the third game in the season series but had to leave just five minutes into the game with a groin injury. He followed up back-to-back shutouts with a pretty bad performance against the Hawks so he needs to put that behind him.

There aren't enough words to properly say how important this game is for the Stars. They're in the drivers seat right now with a small (very small) buffer on the teams chasing them. They have to do everything they can to keep ahead of the pack. Dallas needs to show the hunger, the drive to make the playoffs and take it to the Coyotes. Now is not the time to go back into a losing funk.

Notes and thoughts:

  • The Coyotes stifling defense has held the Stars big guys (Ryder, Ribeiro, Eriksson and Benn) to miniscule numbers in the season series.  Ryder has two goals, Ribeiro has two assists and Eriksson has one goal and one assist. Jamie Benn missed one game in the season series but he only has one assist. Ineffective games from this group tonight will doom this team to a loss.
  • Dallas is 20-13-3 at home this season. 
  • Michael Ryder has been held goalless in the last three games. It's his longest goalless streak since the end of January.
  • Jamie Benn has a point in five of the last six games.
  • I don't know what's been going on, but the Stars just haven't been getting calls lately. In the last two games, both losses, Dallas has gotten exacty zero (zero, zilch, nada) power play opportunities. Now I doubt the Stars could have gotten anything going with a power play but it's still tough to believe that the Jets and Blackhawks were both clean for 60 minutes while Dallas played a poor game.
  • Meanwhile, the Stars have had to go on the penalty kill at least three times in seven straight games.

more after the jump

 

Coyotes:

The Coyotes are an enigma right now. They followed up an incredible one loss February (in 11 games) with a March that has already seen them lose seven times (out of 10 games). They've been alternating wins and losses in the past five games and are still as shaky as they've been all season.

Surprisingly, it's been the defense that has led to the collapse. In those 11 games in February, the Yotes only allowed 18 goals. 10 games this month has already seen them allow 32 goals (six of those by backup Jason LaBarbera) so there's a crack that the Stars can take advantage of if they can just get their game back on track.

Phoenix has only one injury issue to worry about. Center Kyle Chipchura is out with a wrist injury. Leading scorer Radim Vrbata has been dealing with the flu for the past week but made a return in Sunday's game. He could still be feeling the effects of the flu though and might not be 100%.

The Coyotes will start Mike Smith tonight. He's started all five of the games so far this season and is 3-0-2 with an incredible 0.96 GAA and a 9.66 save percentage. He's allowed only five goals on 147 shots. Dallas needs to pack the net area around Smith tonight and keep his vision obscurred. When he sees the puck, he's going to stop it. Guys like Brenden Morrow and Adam Burish need to be pests near the crease or Smith will be eating up all the shots once again.

Notes and thoughts:

  • Whatever the reason, the Coyotes have been able to get shots in abundance on the Stars. In the five matchups so far this season, Phoenix has gotten 33+ shots in four of those games. Ironically, they had their fewest shots (24) in the game that they scored the most goals (4). Lehtonen will have to be near perfect tonight if the Stars want to win this.
  • Unlike the Stars, the Coyotes big players have shown up in the season series. Ray Whitney has one goal and four assists while Radim Vrbata has three goals and two assists. Top scoring defenseman Keith Yandle has one goal and three assists. The Ribeiro line has their defensive work cut out for them and will really have to work hard tonight. They cannot let the top scoring line of the Coyotes to get a foothold in this game.
  • Phoenix is 18-14-5 on the road this season. They've won two of the last three road games.
  • Whitney has been on a roll the past week with six points in four games (one goal and four assists).
  • About the only thing working well this month for Phoenix has been the PK. They have gone 21 of 22 in the last nine games.
  • The game tonight is the last of a four game road trip for the Coyotes. They played the last three games in Canada so hopefully they're a little travel weary.

Previous games:

  • Oct. 10 @ American Airlines Center: Dallas 2 - Phoenix 1 (SO)
  • Oct. 25 @ Jobing.com Arena: Dallas 3 - Phoenix 2 (SO)
  • Nov. 26 @ Jobing.com Arena: Dallas 0 - Phoenix 3
  • Feb. 7 @ American Airlines Center: Dallas 1 - Phoenix 4
  • Feb. 18 @ Jobing.com Arena: Dallas 1 - Phoenix 2 (OT)

Series Stats:


Dallas Phoenix Goals per game 1.4
2.4 Shots per game 29.4 34.4 Hits per game 26.4 23.2
PIM per game 7.4
9.4 Power Play 2 of 20 (10%) 2 of 18 (11%) Penalty Kill 16 of 18 (89%) 18 of 20 (90%)
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