Stars-Sharks Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 07, 2011
Poor starts to games are plaguing the Dallas Stars. They'll try to avoid a poor start of a different sort in their next contest. Dallas kicks off its longest road trip of the season Thursday night with a visit to the Pacific Division rival San Jose Sharks. This contest will be the first of five straight away from home for the Stars (15-10-1), who will visit Los Angeles on Saturday before facing all three New York-area teams next week. Dallas' longest road trips in each of the past three seasons were also five-game treks, and the Stars dropped four of five each time. Last season's unsuccessful five-game trip included the Stars' last visit to San Jose, a 6-0 loss March 31 in which Patrick Marleau had a pair of goals for the Sharks. That victory matched San Jose's most lopsided win in the history of this series. The Stars will get the benefit of opening their trip well-rested, as Thursday marks their first game since Saturday's 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders. Dallas nearly won despite digging an early three-goal hole, marking the third time in four games the Stars allowed the opponent to score first. They are 14-4-0 when leading or tied after the first period, compared with a 1-6-1 mark when trailing after 20 minutes. "We have some resiliency, I don't think that's going to change for us,'' coach Glen Gulutzan said. "However, we can't keep battling back every night. We've got to play with a little sense of urgency at home and make sure our first periods are better.'' Gulutzan's club might not be hurt as much by early defensive lapses against the Sharks (14-9-1), whose 15 first-period goals are third-fewest in the NHL. Eric Nystrom scored during Saturday's defeat for Dallas, tying Lou Eriksson for the team lead with 10 goals. All of Nystrom's tallies have come in the last 16 games. However, Nystrom has one goal and no assists in 15 career games versus San Jose. Andrew Raycroft is likely to make his fourth straight start in net for the Stars with top goalie Kari Lehtonen still sidelined by a groin injury. Raycroft has won two of three since Lehtonen went down, posting a 2.69 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. He is 1-6-0 with a 3.60 GAA lifetime versus the Sharks, though the lone win came in his last start in San Jose, a 3-2 shootout victory Dec. 13, 2010. San Jose hosted another team with an injured starting goaltender Tuesday night, but couldn't take advantage of Niklas Backstrom's absence and fell 2-1 to Minnesota. Joe Pavelski scored the lone goal for the Sharks, who failed to convert three power-play opportunities and lost for the fourth time in five games. They've totaled nine goals in that span while going 1 for 14 with the man advantage. "There were a lot of missed opportunities,'' said defenseman Dan Boyle, who assisted on Pavelski's score for his first point in his last 10 games. "We had a ton of chances but our execution ... that's a word we're going to hear a lot ... we're just not putting the puck in the net right now.'' Marleau failed to record a point for a fourth straight game, matching his longest drought of the season. San Jose is 10-1-0 when Marleau has at least one point, and 4-8-1 when he fails to show up on the scoresheet. Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric will miss this contest as he begins serving a three-game league suspension for a hit Saturday that left the Islanders' Nino Niederreiter with a concussion.
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