San Jose Sharks (27-4-4) at Dallas Stars (15-14-5), 6:00 PM
Yargh. I hope you all got to watch more hockey over the holidays than I did. Between Friday and Saturday, there were a bazillion games on TV and I only managed to catch the third period of the Sharks/Blues game, which I really shouldn't have as San Jose's effort was about as intense as my enthusiasm for wrapping presents.
In any case, we're at it again tonight as life resumes some semblance of normalcy. First off, I'm not going to comment on the whole Claude Lemieux thing. For me, it's a non-story until he actually gets called up to the big squad. In the meantime, he's helping out the Woo-ster boys, and that's all well and good...but that has nothing to do with the roster switcheroo we're seeing lately.
It sounds like Devin Setoguchi will be out tonight as his grandmother recently passed away. In his spot on the top line will be the suddenly effective Jonathan Cheechoo, which brings up an interesting question -- what the hell happens to the forward lines when the entire San Jose roster is healthy? Right now, you're missing two of your top nine forwards (Setoguchi, Torrey Mitchell) and also another guy who can literally play in any slot given the appropriate amount of ice time (Jeremy Roenick). Suddenly, the top two lines become a game of musical chairs, but to me, the solution seems to be to lose the whole two scoring lines/two checking lines mentality and open up a third line as more of a two-way threat rather than a pure defensive or pure offensive group.
How will it all shake out? Considering that Todd McLellan's been plugging holes in his roster all season and he's shown a recent willingness to experiment with combinations (a pretty good cure for avoiding complacency around the winter doldrums), your guess is as good as mine.
But for tonight, the focus is on Dallas where the Stars have played significantly better since jettisoning the big mouth and small mind of Sean Avery. It helps that Marty Turco can now stop beach balls, though it remains to be seen how regularly he can block smaller objects. A while ago, I wrote in my Kukla's Korner blog that the Stars still had a chance if Mike Modano and Brad Richards picked it up. Here's how they've performed over the past few games:
- 12/27 vs. Anaheim: 1G, 1A
- 12/23 vs. Toronto: 1G
- 12/20 vs. Ottawa: 1G, 1A
- 12/18 vs. Columbus: 1G, 3A
- 12/16 vs. Phoenix: 1A
- 12/27 vs. Anaheim: 1 G, 1 A
- 12/23 vs. Toronto: 1A
The five games prior...0 points
Ok, so Richards has had more of an impact during the recent stretch than Modano, but I think that's pretty much to be expected at this point in their respective careers. In fact, Richards has turned a miserable December (no points in the first six games) into a reasonable one and is almost back to a point-per-game level.
So what to expect tonight? Playing in Dallas used to be one of those weird mental blocks for the Sharks but not so much in recent years (fun fact: if you recall, the Sharks were playing in Dallas when the Joe Thornton trade went down). It's technically time for a rebound game, since the Sharks have thrown two road stinkers in a row (Detroit, St. Louis), but I wouldn't call it a losing streak as the team had two wins at home in between those two. No, I'd say this is yet another one of this Mental Toughness Challenge games, where we get a sense of how this team responds to a sleepwalking effort against a non-playoff team.
Oh, and if you haven't noticed...those pesky Stars are back over .500. Well, .500 in today's wacky NHL, which doesn't necessarily mean that much, but they're still in the hunt.
Prediction: Sharks 4, Stars 2. Goals by Cheechoo, Clowe, Boyle, and Blake. It's too bad JR's injured so I can't throw him into my usual fanboy gameday prediction.