For the first time in a long time, the Sharks won't be staring down Steve Ott or Mike Ribeiro when they face the Stars in Dallas this evening. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk shipped both of them halfway across the continent last offseason and this Dallas team is significantly less loathsome than previous iterations as a result. Sure, Brenden Morrow keeps on trucking but the days of heated rivalry between the Sharks and Stars might, unfortunately, be in the rear-view mirror at this point.
But it doesn't matter. The Sharks' primary concern should not be about settling scores or initiating a line brawl. Right now, they need all the standings points they can get as they risk losing the foothold in the conference they gained courtesy a perfect January. San Jose has lost eight of nine and a regulation loss tonight would allow the Stars to match the Sharks' point total and would leave San Jose with an ugly 1-4-1 record on this road trip.
Thankfully, the Sharks have had a lot of recent success against Dallas. They took five of six meetings against the Stars a year ago, outscoring them 25-11 and outchancing them 102-66 in the process. With their flurry of offseason moves, though, Dallas is a decidedly different team. One Jaromir Jagr now rides shotgun on the Jamie Benn line while the crafty Derek Roy was brought in as a Ribeiro replacement and has been phenomenal. It's depth on defense that represents the Stars' Achilles' heel and the Sharks should try to exploit what looks to be a very shaky third pairing. With Kari Lehtonen injured, San Jose's ice-cold offense will have the opportunity to face AHL-calibre goaltending.
Despite the miserable third period last night, there are some positives to draw on for San Jose. The top two lines appear to be back to normal after being reunited a few games ago and the top pairing of Vlasic and Boyle had themselves a nice outing in Chicago. It's the power play and forward depth that remain outstanding issues, although the latter may be ameliorated by facing an injury-riddled Stars team without a ton of depth up front of their own. This is pretty close to a must-win for the Sharks; they need points within their division and, while the Stars surely aren't bottom-feeders, they're the type of team San Jose needs to beat on a consistent basis if they have their sights set on a playoff spot. Go Sharks.
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