(Sports Network) - The Dallas Stars have struggled over their last nine games. The result has been a loss of first place in the super-tight Pacific Division.
The Stars will seek to get on track tonight with a sixth straight series victory and season sweep over the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place, but will have to do so without leading scorer Brad Richards.
Dallas capped a five-game winning streak with a victory over Edmonton on Jan. 20 and strengthened their hold on the top spot in the Pacific Division. However, a 2-6-1 run since has dropped the Stars into a tie with the Ducks for second place in the division, one point back of the Coyotes.
That last victory over the Oilers also stretched the Stars' club-record road winning streak to eight straight games, but they have lost four straight as the guest since and open a three-game swing through Western Canada tonight.
Dallas scored first in Sunday's home meeting with Columbus, but lost a 2-1 decision. Richards had the goal to give him four tallies and two assists over his last six games, while Kari Lehtonen made 37 saves in net.
"It was a pretty hard-fought game," said Stars forward Steve Ott. "We had Kari playing phenomenal back there for us, but it just wasn't enough."
Richards, though, will not accompany the club on its road trip after suffering an undisclosed injury versus the Blue Jackets. He is tops on the club with 39 assists and 63 points, while his 24 goals match Brenden Morrow for the team high.
"Brad would like to join us, but we think it's the best measure for him to stay behind and get him back to 100 percent. We're going to be cautious with him," said Stars head coach Marc Crawford.
Defenseman Nicklas Grossman left the loss in the first period with a groin injury and is questionable for tonight.
The Oilers could be the perfect opponent for the Stars to get on track against. Dallas has won all three meetings this year, as well as five straight and 13 of the last 17 matchups overall, and is going for its first series sweep of Edmonton since 2007-08.
The Oilers have dropped two straight and nine of their last 12 at home to the Stars and are currently last in the NHL with 40 points. They have lost seven of eight and 21 of their last 25 overall.
Edmonton managed just 12 shots in Sunday's 4-0 loss to Anaheim. Devan Dubnyk was pulled in the third period after yielding the four goals on 15 shots, while Nikolai Khabibulin halted all seven pucks fired his way in relief.
The Oilers have now lost the first three contests of a six-game homestand and seven straight as the host overall. Edmonton is just 7-17-4 in front of the fans at Rexall Place this year.
"We got booed and it should have been louder," Oilers center Sam Gagner said. "People have been patient. We're expected to finish where we are now and we never expected it in here. When it happens guys have to be more upset about it, and not to say we're not upset, but guys have to call each other out."
Captain Shawn Horcoff missed his second straight game due to bronchitis and is doubtful for tonight.
Oilers head coach Tom Renney has a choice to make in net tonight. Dubnyk has lost both of his previous career starts against Dallas, yielding 10 goals on 67 shots, but Khabibulin has lost 14 straight starts overall since his last victory on Dec. 16. The veteran is 6-5-1 with a 2.57 goals-against average in his last 12 versus the Stars.
Lehtonen is 4-1-0 with a 2.41 GAA in his career when facing the Oilers.