Skating with the Stars
Friday, 10.21.2011 / 11:39 AM PT
So, I guess we're going to do this whole "the Western Conference is brutally tough" thing all over again this year, huh?
To wit, the Anaheim Ducks have raced out to a 4-1-0 record, the best start through five games since their Cup season of 2006-07. And what has it gotten them so far? Sixth place in the West and third in their own division. Seriously?? That's what 4-1 gets you these days??? That's like climbing Mt. Everest and seeing five guys already there waiting for you at the top, clinking Miller Lite bottles together.
The leader of the Pacific, the Dallas Stars, are owners of an even glossier 5-1-0 start and a four-game winning streak that matches Anaheim's. Meanwhile, Jonas Hiller's 1.71 goals-against average and .938 save percentage are impressive -- but not quite as good as Stars backstop Kari Lehtonen's 1.58 and .953.
The good news is, we're going to get a close look at just how good Lehtonen and his Stars really are, when they're in this building tonight for another intriguing intra-division battle. If this matters to you, Hiller is 4-3-1 with a 2.40 GAA and .933 save percentage in his career against the Stars. Lehtonen is 3-4-2 in vs. the Ducks with a 3.21 and .898.
As much as the Ducks have struggled with their starts the past few seasons, Dallas' 5-1-0 mark is the second straight season they've done that (they just missed the postseason on the final day last year).
That team has a slightly different look this season, with rookie coach Glen Gulutzan (thank you, copy and paste) taking over after coaching the AHL's Texas Stars the last two seasons. And while the summer loss of Brad Richards to the Rangers was a big blow, if obviously hasn't hurt Dallas much so far. They still have scorers like Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson (both notorious Duck killers), Brenden Morrow and Jamie Benn. And they brought in veteran Sheldon Souray and his booming shot for a one-year deal over the summer.
Souray is an interesting story, as he was placed on waivers by the Oilers last season and cleared (partly because of his big salary cap hit). He was assigned to the Hershey Bears, Washington's AHL affiliate, where he was a teammate of our own Andrew Gordon. The Oilers tried to trade him at the deadline last year and didn't, and Dallas signed him in July. So far it's been a good move, as Souray has a goal and four assists in six games.
Souray, who has battled a number of injuries in his career, missed practice yesterday with a wrist problem. But Gulutzan said he'll be in the lineup tonight after getting a shot in the area.
The Ducks are possibly getting their own banged-up defenseman back tonight, as Kurtis Foster is reportedly available. He's missed the entire regular season after having a wire removed from his thigh, but Randy Carlyle called him "an option for us in these games." The problem is, the Ducks defense has been so solid, there may not be a spot for him among the D corps of Visnovsky-Lydman, Fowler-Beauchemin and Sbisa-Brookbank.
"When you have healthy bodies and you have people that have played to a high level, these decisions become more difficult,” Carlyle said.
The Stars, by the way, were outshot 40-18 in their win Tuesday night in Columbus and have been outshot 134-100 during their four-game roll.