The Flames stumble into Dallas on a three-game losing streak this evening (6:30PM MT, Sportsnet Flames), looking to right the ship with a 'W' before the Holidays. They could be in tough against the surging Stars, who have won three straight and are 6-2-2 in their past ten, sitting just one point behind the Red Wings for first in the West.
The Stars are led by none other than former Conne Smythe trophy winner Brad Richards, who already has 16 goals and 39 points in 34 games in his fourth season for the Stars, an is on pace for 38-55-93 if he stays healthy, which would be a career high for the P.E.I native. Richards is also a plus player for the first time in six seasons, with a +/- rating of plus-8 on the season.
The percentages have certainly been on his side this season--as the team has an EV SH% of 11.95 with Richards on the ice (second only to teammate James Neal at 12.23%, who is third on the team in scoring with 13 goals and 29 points) and an SV% of .936--but the pair are starting in the offensive zone less than 50% of the time. They're not being coddled by head coach Marc Crawford, who probably won't be afraid to give them some of the tougher assignments in tonight's game, although captain Brendan Morrow and Mike Rebeiro appear to see the most of the opposition's best while the likes of Steve Ott and Adam Burish are buried in the defensive zone, with Zone Start ratios hovering around 30. The Stars aren't short on offensive weapons up front, as they have five players who have reached double-digits in goals and boast 20 or more points, compared to just three in the former category for the Flames and two in the latter.
Dallas is a team that seems to do most of their damage at even strength; the Stars rank 15th in the league in the powerplay and 18th when down a man, although both special teams units are in the top five at American Airlines Center. The Flames, on the other hand, rank in the bottom ten on the powerplay and the penalty kill away from home, so tonight's game will require a much better effort at even strength, as the Flames only accumulated 23 shots at 5-on-5 in Tuesday's loss to Columbus. The Flames are shooting the puck at a rate of about three shots more per game than Dallas, so if they keep that up tonight, they could be on the receiving end a few good bounces--they're probably overdue.
For the Flames, Mikael Backlund will sit out his third consecutive game tonight, as Craig Conroy and Brendan Mikkelson join him in the press box.
Tom Kostopoulos-David Moss-Tim Jackman
If the Flames are going to win this game, which is probably very unlikely given the way Dallas has been going, Kiprusoff will have to be at his best, as he returns to the Flames' net tonight after getting the night off in Columbus. The oft-injured Kari Lehtonen will counter for the Stars, backed up by Andrew Raycroft (remember him?)
Enjoy the game everyone, and start celebrating Christmas a little early in the comments. I know I will be. Go Flames.