Dec 14, 2013; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin (91) celebrates his goal against the Winnipeg Jets with teammates during the second period at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Avalanche – Stars


Who: Dallas Stars (15-11-5)

When: Tonight, 9:00PM EST/7:00PM MDT

Your (unconfirmed) Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (14-8-1), DAL – Kari Lehtonen (12-7-5)

The Dangermen: Unsurprisingly, the Stars are a two-man show right now. That being said, those two guys are pretty good. Tyler Seguin is scorching hot right now, leading the team in goals by a country-mile with 17 and points with 31 in 29 games. He’s been a house of fire of late as well, with a pair of four-point games in his last four games. Obviously, paying close attention to him will be imperative.

On Seguin’s left wing is Jamie Benn, who is second on the team in goals (9) and points (28), while posting a team-high 19 assists. He’s big, talented, tough to knock off the puck and forming a tremendous bond with Seguin and whoever it is that happens to be on the right wing on any given night.

Lately, that has been Valeri Nichushkin. The young Russian has come on of late, with 5 goals and 16 points. He’s also capable of doing things like this. He’s still prone to rookie mistakes, but he’s so talented that he can hurt you at just about any time. He and Alex Chiasson (who has cooled off) are still worth keeping an eye on and can sneak up on you if you over-focus on Benn and Seguin.

The Defenders: Defensively, it gets a little dicey. The team is in the bottom half of the league in goals against, shots against and penalty kill. Where they lack in physicality, the Stars have a few puck-movers, though production has been hard to come by. They’ve also been hurt by injuries to key players like Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley.

Veteran defender Sergei Gonchar and the much younger Brendan Dillon are tied for the team-lead with 10 points among the defensemen. Alex Goligoski has been expected to step up for the Stars, but can’t seem to find any consistency. He’s a more than capable offensive defenseman when he’s on, but is showing himself to be somewhat of a liability in his own end due to his size.

Newcomers Jamie Oleksiak and Kevin Connauton are still adjusting to the NHL game and haven’t chipped in much on the offensive end (one assist between them). To say the Stars are vulnerable on defense right now would be a bit of an understatement.

Puck Stoppers Inc.: Though he’s not quite the house of fire he was earlier in the season, Lehtonen is still capable of stealing a game on any night of the week. He’s 12-7-5 with a 2.49 GAA and .919 save percentage, struggling with the Stars of late (they are 4-3-3 in their last 10).

The last time these two met, it took the Avalanche until overtime to grab the win, their second 3-2 decision over the Stars. Lehtonen was very good, stopping 26 of 29 shots on the night. I know it’s sounding repetitive at this point, but get to him early and your night gets a helluva lot easier.

Dec 14, 2013; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (not pictured) goes around Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) to score during the second period at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

How the Avs match up: So only Jan Hejda came back in Saturday night’s loss to the Wild. Ryan Wilson is expected back when the Avalanche play in Dallas tomorrow night. He’s been out with a back injury since Nov. 6.

 

The Avalanche have been in a scoring funk of late and they face a defensively struggling team. Getting on the board first has been a huge key to the quick start the Avalanche have had, so getting the first goal will be even more important as they struggle to score.

Getting a disciplined game with few penalties would be nice as well, considering the penalty kill has fallen on hard times recently.

Key Matchup: The Avs vs A Quick Start

Cower in fear if: The Avalanche forget that Seguin and Benn are clearly the best two players the Stars have.

The Avs don’t STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX.

Pucks continue to not go in the net.

Laugh maniacally if: The Avalanche get on the board first for the first time in awhile.

The recovering defense shuts down Benn, Seguin and whoever their linemate happens to be.

A few bounces start to go the way of the Avalanche.

Silly predictions: Gabe Landeskog returns to the score sheet with a goal; Matt Duchene continues his strong play; Nichushkin has at least one ridiculous rush, whether that results in a goal or not is another thing; Lehtonen submits another very strong performance.

Final:  3-1 Avalanche

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Tags: 2013-14 Season Colorado Avalanche Dallas Stars Gabriel Landeskog Jamie Benn Kari Lehtonen Matt Duchene NHL Semyon Varlamov Tyler Seguin