Blue Jackets-Stars Preview


The Columbus Blue Jackets haven't won on the road in regulation all season.

Their chances of breaking through in their next game probably aren't too good with the Dallas Stars' No. 1 goalie set to return.

Kari Lehtonen is expected to make his first start in more than a month for the Stars on Thursday night when they look to improve to 3-0 this season against the league's worst team.

Lehtonen has been out since Nov. 26 with a groin injury. Dallas (20-14-1) has watched its goalies go 7-5-0 with a 3.08 goals-against average since losing Lehtonen, who is 13-4-1 with a 2.34 GAA.

Defenseman Stephane Robidas, who has missed three games with a lower-body injury, was placed on injured reserve to open a roster spot with Lehtonen being activated.

"He's skated the last few days and he's very close," coach Glen Gulutzan said of Lehtonen. "I wouldn't be surprised to see him against Columbus."

Lehtonen started both games when Dallas swept a home-and-home set with the Blue Jackets in October, allowing two goals in each. His career 1.56 GAA against them is his lowest versus any opponent he's faced more than once.

Columbus (9-22-5) is 3-12-2 on the road, with two wins coming in shootouts and the other in overtime.

The Stars will have to avoid the temptation of looking past the Blue Jackets in the opener of a three-game homestand that includes visits by powerhouses Detroit and Boston.

Dallas lost for the third time in five games Monday, 5-3 at St. Louis. The Stars' penalty-killing unit struggled again, allowing two goals for the fourth straight game.

"We've been giving up far too many goals on the PK lately and we've been winning, so it hasn't really been too glaring," left wing Eric Nystrom told the Stars' official website. "It's just small details, the little things that make a big difference in the game."

Mike Ribeiro has enjoyed a strong month with 12 points in 11 games. Ribeiro was not as productive early in the season, although his best effort came when he had three assists in a 4-2 home win over Columbus on Oct. 15.

"Obviously, it was a bit of a slow start, not a slow start but I didn't feel as good on the ice," Ribeiro said. "Actually, the first 20 games, I didn't feel that good. Lately, I've been feeling better, skating better, playing smarter."

The Stars could see their penalty kill improve against a Columbus team that is among the worst in the league on the power play at 15.0 percent. Dallas is only at 14.7 percent with the man advantage, but the Blue Jackets own one of the worst penalty-kill units at 74.6 percent.

Columbus' latest losing streak reached six after Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss to Calgary. Derick Brassard had the lone goal for the Blue Jackets, whose previous five defeats came in regulation.

"I told the players afterward that they went out and played for each other," coach Scott Arniel said. "They played hard for each other. They did the little things together. You could tell on the bench there was a lot of energy."

Steve Mason is expected to start in goal for Columbus. He's 0-8-0 with a 4.80 GAA on the road this season.