Game 20 Preview: Edmonton Oilers @ Dallas Stars

Edmonton Oilers (10-7-2, 22 pts) @ Dallas Stars (11-8-0, 22 pts)

7:30 PM CT, November 21, 2011

American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas

The Dallas Stars are willing to do just about anything now to get out of their funk. They’ve hit the panic button, switched up lines and split apart their two best players and now the Stars are getting an infusion of youth in an attempt to get this team rolling again.

The young upstart Edmonton Oilers find themselves in town tonight and the Stars look to be going the Oilers route. Tomas Vincour was called up from the Texas Stars and both he and Philip Larsen will be in the lineup tonight. Larsen was called up when Alex Goligoski was injured, but hasn’t seen the ice yet. With the Stars losing five games in a row in very bad fashion, these changes shouldn’t come as a suprise.

The Oilers had also found themselves in a bad funk recently before their 9-2 destruction of the Chicago Blackhawks. Before that game, the Oilers had lost five of their last six games and have been horrible defensively. Edmonton has give up 5+ goals in three of their last five games. Nikolai Khabibulin has come back down to earth after an incredible start to the season. In his last four starts he has allowed 16 goals. In his first nine starts of the season, the Bulin Wall had only given up nine goals.

The Oilers are led offensively by rookie phenom Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins has been fantastic this season and is coming off a five assist game against the Blackhawks. He leads all rookies in the NHL in scoring (7 goals, 12 assists) and is tied with the resurgent Ryan Smyth in points on the Oilers. Nugent-Hopkins has been a force on power-plays, tallying 2 goals and 8 assists. 

Aside from the rookie, the Stars will definitely need to keep their eye on three other guys: Smythe, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Smythe leads the team in goals with 11 and is an old (very old) nemesis of the Stars. You can count on him to show up for this game. Hall and Eberle are both second-year players that are really starting to come into their own.

Hall, like Nugent-Hopkins, has been very good on the PP. He leads the team in PP goals (4) and he has the second highest shot total on the team. He’ll be putting the puck towards the net with frequency so Dallas needs to keep themselves in front of him.

Eberle, meanwhile, is tied with RNH in assists (12) and only 2 goals behind him. He’s just as good but doesn’t get as much pub. He has 2 goals and 4 assists in his last three games.

The Oilers are a solid team, but are not good at all on the road. Their PP, 3rd in the NHL, has really struggled on the road. They’ve scored only 4 goals on their road PP and are successful only 12.9% of the time. Those numbers rank in the bottom third in the league. That’s putrid compared to their 13 goals on the home PP (29%). The Oilers have major injuries to their backliners, so Dallas has to take adavantage of the chances that they get.

Edmonton is actually one of the few teams in the NHL that averages less shots per game than the Stars, so there shouldn’t be a huge disparity tonight if the Stars play with some passion.

Stars defenders probably won’t have the speed to keep up with this team so they need to be sound in their defense. Keep communicating and cover each other’s backs or Kari Lehtonen will be seeing a lot of free skaters around the crease area. They need to come out with the same fire that they showed in the first period of their game against the Sharks.

Kari Lehtonen gets the call in goal tonight. Dallas will be without Goligoski (broken thumb) and Adam Burish (broken hand).

The Oilers will be short four defensemen: Cam Barker (ankle), Ryan Whitney (knee), Andy Sutton (groin) and Corey Potter (ankle).