Thursday, February 3, 2011
Stars set to square off against best of East
By Mark Stepneski
The Dallas Stars continue their run of games against other top teams out of the All-Star break with a two-game road trip against two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference – Boston and Philadelphia .
You can call the games - at Boston on Thursday and at Philadelphia on Saturday - tests or measuring sticks, but the focus of the Stars is primarily to get points as they try to maintain their spot atop the Pacific Division and remain in a solid spot as far as playoff positioning.
“These are measuring sticks, but in the same instance they are point games,” said forward Steve Ott. “We need to continue to get points to hold our spot and continue to get better and to improve our power play and penalty kill. It gives us a big chance against these guys.”
Special teams were a killer in the Stars’ first game out of the break, a 4-1 loss to Vancouver Tuesday night at American Airlines Center. The Canucks are top the team in the Western Conference and in the NHL with 71 points.
The Bruins, who have won eight of their last eleven games, lead the Northeast Division. The Flyers are the top team in the East and rank second in the NHL to the Canucks.
“You can’t get too high if you win them and you can’t too high if you lose them. They are tests for right now, but when they are done we’ll have other tests as we go,” said Stars center Brad Richards. “The test is trying to get wins. We’ve been good on the road, so let’s get back at it.”
The Stars have been good against the Eastern Conference as well. They are 11-2-1 overall, including 4-1-1 against the current playoff teams in the East.
“We’ve played well against top teams, especially top teams in the East. We beat the division leaders and the top teams in that conference,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford. “Hopefully we’ll continue that mastery over the Eastern teams.”
While it can be pointed out that these two games will be good tests for the Stars, Crawford pointed out that his team will provide a good test for the Bruins and the Flyers. The Stars are, after all, a top team too, ranking third in the West and are seventh overall in the league standings.
“From their perspective, I think they’ve got to be looking at us and saying, hey that’s a pretty good club over there. They’ve got a tough opponent,” Crawford said. “We know we respect the Philadelphia Flyers, we respect the Boston Bruins and all the strengths that they have. I also think they are going to show a little bit of respect for us.”
As practice was winding down for the Stars in Frisco Wednesday the lights went out at the Dr. Pepper Star Center. It was part of the rotating power outages in the area due to the severe weather.
The players stayed on the ice for a while, skating in the darkened arena and then started to head off the ice.
“It’s been a difficult couple of days,” said forward Steve Ott. “There was the travel to the American Airlines Center (Tuesday) and then today with the lights going out on us.”
*Defenseman Mark Fistric, who missed Tuesday’s game due to illness, practiced on Wednesday. He could be ready to return on Thursday.
*Stars coach Marc Crawford said he plans to start Andrew Raycroft in goal on Thursday against Boston and then go with Kari Lehtonen Saturday in Philadelphia.
*The Stars recalled right wing Ray Sawada from the Texas Stars of the AHL. Sawada has 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists) and a plus-6 rating in 36 games with Texas this season.