By Kris Smith
Stars face just a single opponent this weekend as they aim to snap a nine game losing streak and exact revenge against the Lightning.
The Kitmart Dundee Stars face Milton Keynes Lightning tonight with Omar Pacha’s side in search of a much-needed win. Just 12 points separate last placed Milton Keynes and leaders, Nottingham Panthers. Stars who are ninth out of the 11 teams are nine points off the top with three games in hand over the leaders.
Last time they met, Milton Keynes took a 1-0 lead through Eric Neiley in eighth minute before doubling their advantage in the second period through Owen Griffiths. Stars pulled it back to 2-2 with goals from Drydn Dow and Brian Hart in third stanza. Overtime was required and with Charles Corcoran in the box for tripping in the 63rd minute, Andreas Valdix bagged the winner with 54 seconds left in the extra period.
Last weekend seen Lightning respond to back-to-back home losses against Belfast Giants with a 2-1 victory over the Blaze in Coventry. Meanwhile Dundee were beaten by a single goal in both their matches. A 4-3 overtime lost against Manchester Storm seen them claim their first of two points, as a 2-1 overtime loss at home against Nottingham added to their winless run.
Lukas Lundvald comes into the match on an eight-game point streak with four goals and six assists, the Dane is also tied for Dundee’s leading scorer title with 16 points from 16 games. Matt Marquardt matches him after playing 17 games, the Canadian has scored the most goals this campaign with nine strikes in league and cup matches.
Dundee’s Swedish goalie, Pontus Sjögren has made 11 league appetences so far and holds a goals against average of 2.75 and has stopped .914 per cent of the shots he has faced. Defenceman, Connor Cox leads the Tayside team in the plus minus category with a plus seven score.
Three ex-Sheffield players lead the way for Milton Keynes with Eric Neiley and Valdix on 14 points from 15 games. Tim Wallace has 12 points also from 15 games. The Lightning’s first choice keeper, Patrick Killeen has featured in 10 Elite League matches and has a 3.78 average for goals against, along with a .916 save percentage.
Doug McKay was missing six players forom his line-up last weekend but will at least welcome Cole Shudra back after serving his suspension. The on-loan Sheffield youngster was given a two-match ban for a check from behind against Belfast last Friday.
Lightning’s Ryan Lannon, Rio-Grinell-Parke, Georgs Golovkovs, David Norris and Joonas Huovinen did not ice on Saturday or Sunday.
Since the last match between Stars and the Buckinghamshire club, James Hounsome has joined the Lightning, the 19-year-old English born Slovak was playing in American midget leagues last year before returning to Britain.
It is mixed news for the Dundee line-up as Dow is set to miss the game after sustaining a lower body injury last weekend but Matt Bissonnette was back in training this week and will make a return.
Giving his thoughts ahead of the weekend, Stars head coach, Omar Pacha said: “We are confident and it will be fun to start the weekend at home and obviously that is the only game, so there is no travel this week.
“Our guys had a few days off to get their mindset right for this big game.
“I expect the guys to come out strong and I expect us to have a high energy game and be intense, I think we are going to give ourselves a good chance to win the hockey game if we do that.”
The Canadian has repeated that only one or two aspects of their game is letting them down but the feels they are “closer than ever” to getting that much needed win.
Omar said: “I think we are closer than ever, I think it is going to be a great test and a great opportunity to see the team fresh and not having travel the day before.
“That regardless is no excuse, we have to come out the same way but we have to be better in our execution, especially on the powerplay.”
Reflecting on their last match and what he hopes to see from his side on Friday, Pacha added: “Last time we played them it was a four (games) in five (days) and I felt we had our best period in the third period, which is kind of surprising.
“I expect us to come out strong, I expect us to play a full 60 minutes and that is the message for this week, we only have one game so we have to leave it all on the ice.”
Stars in-form winger, Lukas Lundvald has continued to impress in his second season with the club. Compared to last season, the Dane feels the there is no pressure on the team so early into the campaign.
Lukas said: “There is a big difference compared to last year, we are a much better team and I do not put that much concern into the fact that we are losing right now.
“It is going to come to an end, there is still 50 games left, so I do not know why people are so upset because we are sitting in a really good spot in the standings.
“I am really proud of the team and I think we do well every single night.”
Talking about his impressive scoring run, he added: “It is always fun, it was the most fun in the second game when we won against Belfast.
“I wish we could win every night but it is always fun when you feel like you are making a difference but it is best when you win games.”
Lundvald also gave his thoughts on where the team need to improve to start winning more games. He said: “We need to get a better start, we are slowing down in the first period and we are letting the other teams get ahead with one or two and sometimes three goals.
“Then we play the game that we know we can and start to get into the games again and get points.
“We need to keep going for 60 minutes or more sometimes to get the win.”
Face-off is at 7:30pm and tickets are still available form the DIA box office and online, the band Independence will be playing live in the upstairs bar after the match until midnight.