FLAMES (4-3-2) at STARS (3-5-0)
TV: SNET-CGY, FS-SW
Season series: First of three between the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars, and the first of two in Dallas. The Stars took two of three last season, splitting at home, and won three of four the previous season, splitting in Calgary.
Big story: It's a tale of two teams in very similar circumstances. Slightly less than a tenth of the season in the books and each is looking for the formula that will carry them the rest of the way. Each has had a rough stretch lately and will go into this matchup off significant personnel moves. The Flames would like to end a five-game road trip on a positive note after losing three of the first four.
Flames: Sean Monahan is in the NHL to stay. General manager Jay Feaster announced Wednesday morning that the sixth player chosen in the 2013 NHL Draft would not return to his junior club, the Ottawa 67's, and would stay with the Flames for the rest of the season.
He was just too good to send down. Monahan's six goals in nine games lead the Flames and rank in the NHL's top 10. He's tied with captain Mark Giordano for second on the team with nine points and his shooting percentage (28.6 percent) sets the team pace as well. But most importantly, he's been irreplaceable at the center position, averaging almost 16 minutes ice time per game and figuring prominently in linemate Jiri Hudler's nine-game point streak. He's the first Flame to make the roster out of juniors immediately after being drafted since Kevin LaVallee in 1980-81, the Flames' first season in Calgary after relocating from Atlanta.
"We feel good about him. We feel good about the decision we've made," Feaster told the Calgary Sun.
Stars: Save for a 4-3 shootout win over the previously unbeaten San Jose Sharks last Thursday, these last five games have been forgettable for the Stars. Four straight road losses have fans scratching their heads, but the return of goalie Kari Lehtonen from a lower-body injury has coach Lindy Ruff looking forward to Thursday.
"Some of the redirections that have gone in, if you look, they're not bad goals," Ruff told the Dallas Morning News about Lehtonen's impact on the team. "But a bigger goalie that's playing a little bigger and understands what's coming at him and has a little bit more experience … Kari, through all the years, understands where to be on those."
Who's hot: Hudler continues to amaze in the opening weeks for the Flames. He's had points in all nine games so far and paces the team with 12, good enough to be among the top five in the NHL. His eight assists put him in the top 10. … Lehtonen was off to a good start before his injury, going 2-1-0 with a 1.57 goals-against average in three starts.
Injury report: Giordano missed Tuesday's game with an undisclosed injury, skating off during pregame warmups Tuesday and not returning. He remains questionable, as does forward Matt Stajan with a leg contusion. … Stars forward Erik Cole remains questionable after missing practice with an undisclosed injury. Forward Ryan Garbutt was given a five-game suspension for leaving his feet to hit Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks during Sunday's game.
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