Game Preview: Dallas Stars @ Pittsburgh Penguins

Dallas Stars (11-3-0, 22 pts) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (9-3-3, 21 pts)

6:00 PM CT, November 11, 2011

CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Let me go ahead and get this out of the way, Sidney Crosby won’t be playing tonight. Now that tidbit is over so we can move on to the real news; the top two teams in the NHL find themselves on opposite ends of the ice tonight.

The Stars come into this game (the third of a four game road trip) about as confident as a team could be. Dallas has won 4 games in a row (five of their last six road games), scoring a total of 20 goals in those 4 games and provided the Washington Capitals with their first home loss of the season in their last game. Dallas went from a struggling offensive team to an absolute juggernaut in the past week. The Ryder-Benn-Eriksson line is the hottest in the league, with those three combining for 22 points (22!) in the last three games.

The Penguins are coming off a long break; their last game was on Saturday against the LA Kings, a game that they won 3-2 in a shootout. Dallas had a break like that in their previous week and came out looking rusty against the Colorado Avalanche before they got things together in the second period. The Pens could face some rust in the first period tonight.

Pittsburgh gets a lot of attention for their offense (well-deserved), but it’s the defense that makes this team tick. The Pens rank 4th in the league in goals allowed and are the best in the NHL on the penalty-kill. They’ve only allowed three power-play goals the entire season (41 of 44) for a ridiculous 93% kill rate. They have yet to allow more than 4 goals in a game this season. Marc-Andre Fleury has been excellent for the Pens this season (8-2-1, 1.95 GAA and a .931 save percentage) and is the big reason for that stellar defense.

Evgeni Malkin will be the guy everyone looks to tonight, but it’s old Stars buddy James Neal that’s leading the Pens in points (14) and goals (9). It looks like he’s been hitting the posts less than usual this season so Dallas needs to keep an eye on him. Defenseman Kris Letang leads the Pens in assists (12), including six on the power-play.

Dallas gets to see their second Staal brother of the road trip tonight, Jordan Staal in this case. Staal is second on the Pens in goals (6) and tied for third in points (10). 

Kari Lehtonen will get the call tonight for Dallas and looks to build on his league leading 11 wins. He’s 7-3-2 in his career against the Penguins with a 2.77 GAA and a .913 save percentage. He started the game against the Pens last season, a 5-2 win.

The Stars will be without Steve Ott (hip) who was put on retroactive IR yesterday. Brenden Morrow has an elbow problem, but should be able to play tonight.

Pittsburgh will be without Crosby (concussion) and two defensemen, Ben Lovejoy (wrist) and Zbynek Michalek (hand). Forward Tyler Kennedy (concussion) is questionable to play.

Notes:

  •  The Penguins are a team that draws a lot of penalties. Pittsburgh has had at least five power-plays in 7 of the 15 games that they’ve played this season. They’ve had 61 PP opportunites this season, 7th highest in the NHL.
  • Dallas, meanwhile, has been on the penalty-kill at least four times in all but 2 of their 14 games this season. Only Winnipeg and Philadelphia have taken more penalties this season. In other words, this could be night with a lot of 5-on-4′s.
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