It’s fun when you get two teams that are on a tear to meet up and that’s just what’s going on in Dallas tonight when the Stars take on the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
The Stars are on a roll having won four in a row and they’re back in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. With 70 points they’re sitting eighth in the West, just five points back of the Pacific Division leading Coyotes. Loui Eriksson continues to be the guy leading the way. He just cracked the 20-goal barrier for the fourth straight season and is coming off a game where he scored the overtime winner against Vancouver. He’s not too bad.
Making it all stand up is Kari Lehtonen who’s playing some inspired hockey of late in goal. In his last three starts, Lehtonen has given up just three goals and has a shutout while going 3-0-0 in that span. With Eriksson leading the way up front and Lehtonen holding it down in goal the way he is, it’s no wonder the Stars are playing as well as they are. Jamie Benn’s return to action will help make Eriksson’s life a little easier as well.
Of course, they’re running headlong into a Penguins team that’s getting a MVP-like season out of Evgeni Malkin as well as a monster year out of former Stars forward James Neal.
After acquiring Neal (and Matt Niskanen) from Dallas for Alex Goligoski, Neal had his struggles adjusting. Now that he’s got Malkin for a linemate, the two are running roughshod over opponents combining for 67 goals and 139 points. While Sidney Crosby is still not ready to come back, Neal and Malkin are making it work out just fine in the meantime.
Seeing Marc-Andre Fleury play strong in goal helps to keep the wolves at bay as well. Fleury’s had a strong season for Pittsburgh and while Penguins fans could easily get lost in not having Crosby and going through the motions with all sorts of injuries, Fleury has been a rock. He’ll need to be at his best to handle the plucky Stars who never seem to go away.