Bill Meltzer: Stars Gameday: 1/15/15 vs. WPG


Playing the second match of a three-game homestand, Lindy Ruff’s Dallas Stars (19-16-7) will play host to Paul Maurice’s Winnipeg Jets (22-14-8) on Thursday night. Game time at the American Airlines Center is 7:30 p.m. CST. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest.

This is the second of four meetings between the teams this season, and the second and final game in Dallas.

On Dec. 9, the Stars suffered an ugly 5-2 home defeat at the hands of the Jets. The teams will rematch in Winnipeg on Jan. 31 and Feb. 24.

The Stars enter this game coming off a 5-4 home regulation win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. Trailing 2-0 early in the game on a pair of stoppable goals, Ruff removed starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen in favor of backup Anders Lindbäck. The move worked, as the much-maligned Lindbäck played his best game — either in a relief or starting capacity — in stopping 34 of 36 shots to earn the win.

In the meantime, Dallas supplemented a late first period goal by Ales Hemsky (seventh of the season) with a four-goal ouburst in the second period to take a 5-3 lead. A pair of tallies by rookie defenseman John Klingberg (fifth and sixth of the season) led the way, along with single goals by defenseman Trevor Daley (10th) and a power play goal by forward Erik Cole (10th).

Dallas’ lead was reduced to one goal by a Milan Michalek power play goal six minutes into the third period but the Stars hung on for the win. Lindbäck stopped 15 of 16 shots in the third period to close out the comeback victory.

For the month of January, the Stars are 2-2-2. The win over the Senators snapped a four-game winless skid. One area of concern for Dallas is that the team goals against average — ranked 28th in the 30-team NHL at 3.29 non-shootout goals per game — has been creeping up again as of late. The club has yielded four or more goals in four of the last five games.

Entering Thursday’s game, the Stars’ Tyler Seguin is tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead with 26 goals and is tied for third in overall points with 48. However, the goals and points have been a bit hard to come by of late for the All-Star Game selection. The center has gone five games without a goal (two assists) and has one goal and six points in the last 10 games. Seguin played through an illness in Tuesday’s game.

At practice on Wednesday, Ruff separated Seguin and team captain Jamie Benn onto different lines. Seguin centered agitating forwards Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt (who was suspended for slew-footing Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien the last time the Stars played the Jets).

Benn, who is playing through an undisclosed injury, has two goals and six points over the last 10 games. He skated on a line with Cody Eakin and rookie Brett Ritchie at Wednesday’s practice, per Stars Inside Edge. Ruff was noncommittal as to whether the revised line combinations would carry over into Thursday’s game against the Jets or were just a practice-day experiment.

While the top line hasn’t had much puck luck of late, Hemsky has finally hit a rhythm to provide some supporting offense. He has five goals in the last eight games.

Checking line forward Vernon Fiddler missed last game with a lower-body injury. He is probable for Thursday’s tilt. Elsewhere on the Dallas injury front, Patrick Eaves (ankle), Valeri Nichushkin (hip surgery) and Patrik Nemeth (severe forearm laceration from a skate cut) remain on injured reserve.

Winnipeg enters this game coming off an 8-2 blowout win at home over the usually defensively stingy Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Winnipeg left winger Mathieu Perreault led the way with a four-goal night, while team captain Andrew Ladd extended his current point streak to seven straight games (four goals, six assists, 10 points). The Jets went 2-for-3 on the power play.

Thursday’s game is the front end of back-to-back games for the Jets. The team faces a Friday road showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks, and is in the midst of a grueling stretch of seven games within 11 days. Michael Hutchinson, who stopped 25 of 27 shots against Florida, is expected to split goaltending chores with veteran Ondrej Pavelec in the back-to-back games.

The Jets have gone 2-0-1 in their last three games and are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. If the regular season ended today, Winnipeg would hold the higher wildcard seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

On the Jets’ injury front, defensemen Grant Clitsome (back) and Jacob Trouba (upper body) are both out of the lineup.