When the Dallas Stars last came to Raleigh, it was the Carolina Hurricanes' three Finns who brought their best to the contest in the 5-3 victory. The hometeam was climbing out of the hole they had dug in the early going of the 2009-10 season, and the win that night was another step to confirming the worst was over, Tuomo Ruutu came through with his first career hat trick, while his countrymen, Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen, were the named other two "stars of the game" for their contributions to the effort.
This year the Stars have a new #1 netminder, Kari Lehtonen, another 27-year old import from Finland, who is leading the team with his steady work in goal. Lehtonen's been a workhorse, starting all but 3 games for Dallas this season, and putting up good numbers along the way, as the Stars (13-8-1) are now tied for first in the Pacific Division with the Phoenix Coyotes. They come into the game tonight in Raleigh with a 3-game win streak.
For the Hurricanes, it is their third game in four nights in three cities. The Canes impressive shutout in Boston Friday was followed up with a hard-fought though disappointing shootout loss to the NHL-leading Washington Capitals last evening. The Canes goal tender Cam Ward is expected to get the start tonight, as he has for the previous two games.
Click here: Canes Country's Game Guide: Hurricanes vs Stars is ready to print out if you'd like to bring some extra resource material to the game tonight.
Reminders: Tonight's game has a delayed 7:30 start time and will be covered by Versus TV, with Carolina's John Forslund and Dallas' Daryl Reaugh in the booth. It is also "Third Jersey" night, so expect to see the hometeam back in black. After the jump, looking at the stats and some links on what to watch for in tonight's match up.
|2010 - Kari Lehtonen||19||1134||11||7||51||2.70||579||528||.912||0|
|2010 - Cam Ward||19||1095||10||7||48||2.63||613||565||.922||1|
Lehtonen was injured last year early in the season while still with the Atlanta Thrashers, and was subsequently traded to Dallas before the Olympic break last February. This season has been his opportunity to prove his worth as a true #1, with his effort profiled in this piece out of Dallas over the weekend: Workhorse Lehtonen Plowing Through - Dallas Stars. A quick scan of the player bios shows he and the Hurricanes' three Finns, all of whom were born in 1983, predictably have much shared experience as juniors together on Finland's national teams. Beyond that, Ruutu and Lehtonen, both natives of Helsinki, played together with the Finnish Elite League's Jokerit club before moving to the States and launching their NHL careers.
Lehtonen comes into the game having faced the Hurricanes often enough when he was with a Southeast Division rival. He has lost to the Carolina team eleven times in total, with a record in the RBC Center of 1-5-1 and a 3.56 GAA. Will the new sweater make a difference?
For the Hurricanes, their best games have been when both their franchise players, Eric Staal and Cam Ward have led the way. Staal, with the C now comfortably set on his jersey, has been the team's most potent player in all zones of the ice, with particularly noteworthy play in front of both goals. His pass from the seat of his pants to set up Jokinen's goal Friday was followed up Sunday with quick feed to Erik Cole, and then battling in front ot Semyon Varlamov last night, to score the clutch goal and tie the game at the Verizon Center.
Greg Wyshynski, aka Puck Daddy, had a chance to catch up with the eldest Staal after the Caps game. He came away with this: Why Eric Staal will be a 2011 NHL All-Star Game captain.
Cam Ward, (who like Lehtonen is starting his twentieth game of the season tonight), has been the difference in the first period of the last two games, at his best till the Hurricanes were able to muster some energy and raise their game in the 2nd and 3rd periods. In the last four games, the Canes have averaged less than 6 shots-on-goal in the first period, while the opponents have doubled that number in the opening frame. Ward (with Peters one night last week) has given up only 2 first period goals (both to the Caps last night) for greater than .95 save%, to keep the Canes in the game. In the second, the Canes have put the puck on net at a more impressive pace, averaging nearly 12 SOG in the middle frame. Will tonight be a repeat of a slow start and searing speech at the first intermission - or will the jam be there from the drop of the puck?
On the other side of the ice, the Stars have veteran centerman Brad Richards (11-17-28) and Swede Loui Eriksson (10-14-24) leading the team in scoring. Sophomore winger Jamie Benn, at 21, the youngest on the Dallas roster, is coming off a great pair of games this weekend in wins over the St Louis Blues, with key goals in both.
A long time veteran in Dallas, agitator Steve Ott brings a different kind of offensive play, and it may be time for Troy Bodie to introduce himself if the opportunity presents itself. Ott, who was a teammate to Tim Gleason on the OHL's Windsor Spitfires when the two were teenagers, also leads the Stars in the face-off circle with an impressive average of 55.8% wins, though, like Ruutu, he is identified as a wing. Overall the Dallas team has a FO win % of 48.7%, which is only good for 23rd in the league.
Special Teams and other notes
While Dallas's road record is a respectable 5-5-0, their powerplay % away from Texas is an anemic 5.9%, with only 2 goals in 34 tries. (They were 1-for-33 until Eriksson found the net in St Louis, Saturday). For all games, the Stars special teams are a mediocre 15.6% on the PP (20th) and at 76.8% are 27th in the league (tied with Carolina), on the Penalty Kill.
The Canes are a bit better with a current PP% at 17.3%, though only a 16% success rate at home.
The Canes are the third least penalized team in the league averaging just 10.3 PIM/game. Dallas comes in averaging 15.3 PIM/game, due in part to 22 major penalties in their 23 games. The Hurricanes have only 5 majors so far.
The Stars PK has been coming on strong of late, and has not allowed a power play goal in four games, having killed off 6 of 6 shorthanded situations.
For Carolina, Joni Pitkanen has points in six straight games, with assists in three straight. Eric Staal has a three game point streak, and Jussi Jokinen has points in the last two games.
This is the Hurricanes' sixth of 21 scheduled back-to-backs this season. They are 2-2-1 in the second games of the previous five.
The Stars haven't won at the RBC Center since before the lockout. In that December 2003 game, Jeff O'Neill had the Canes' lone goal, set up by Ron Francis, and was the second star of the night. Kevin Weekes was the losing goaltender.
John Forslund video: "Before the Faceoff"
And be sure to head over to Defending Big D, the Stars SBN site, for news from their room.