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Stars grateful for extra prep time for opener after coronavirus delay

Need to 'get our legs back' before playing Predators on Jan. 22

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Dallas Stars need as much time as possible to get ready for their season opener on Jan. 22, coach Rick Bowness said Saturday. 

The Stars, who had their first four games of the season postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak, practiced Saturday for the first time since the NHL announced their updated start date. 

"Just the way camp unfolded and when we lost those five days, we need more time to get our legs back," Bowness said.  

The NHL announced Friday the Stars will open their season against the Nashville Predators at American Airlines Center (8:30 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-SW, FS-TN, NHL.TV). 

Dallas was scheduled to start the season at the Florida Panthers on Jan. 14. The NHL announced Jan. 8 that six Stars players and two staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, that their practice facility was closed, and that Dallas would not start its season before Jan. 19. 

The Stars returned to practice Tuesday and that day the NHL announced that 17 of their players tested positive for the coronavirus, though most did not have symptoms and all were recovering without complication.

"Of course, it's good for us now because we had the situation here," forward Roope Hintz said of the Jan. 22 start date. "We get a couple of more days to get ready, and I think it's good for us."

Bowness said the Stars will spend the rest of camp improving their cardio and skating, finishing each practice with a hard skate. They'll put goalies Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger in as many gamelike situations as possible, "so they're getting the battles around the net front, fighting the puck through the crowd," Bowness said.

Khudobin practiced for the first time Tuesday after missing the start of camp because of immigration issues. He had surgery to fix a nerve issue in his right arm in October, then tested positive for COVID-19 in Russia, but Bowness said he's looked good, as has Oettinger, who made his NHL debut during the Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season.

The Stars will do more work with the penalty kill as those who play on it return to camp. Forwards Jason Dickinson and Radek Faksa, two penalty killers, practiced Saturday for the first time since Jan. 6. 

"We haven't had a chance with Dickinson out and Faksa out and the guys to really work our penalty killers in. We've had Blake [Comeau] and [Andrew] Cogliano, but 'Dickey's' a huge part of the penalty," said Bowness, who said the Stars will need other forwards who usually don't kill to do so now.

"[Joe Pavelski] and Roope are going to kill this year. Jamie [Benn] is going to kill. Again, with the lack of bodies out there, we haven't had a chance to work all of our regular penalty killers to get them into rhythm. Right now, the power play is definitely ahead of the PK. We worked on it today with Ty Dellandrea and Dickey getting back out there, and we'll work on it the next couple of days."

Dallas' games against the Florida Panthers (Jan. 14 and Jan. 15) have been rescheduled to Feb. 22 and May 3, and its games against the Tampa Bay Lightning (Jan. 17 and Jan. 19) are scheduled for May 4 and May 10.

"We have to pick up the intensity in terms of physical play, and that's hard to do when you're going against teammates, I understand that," Bowness said. "But when the puck drops Friday night (against Nashville), we're playing against an opponent that's going to hit us every chance they get, and we're have to get used to that now and get ready for it now."

Photo courtesy of Dallas Stars

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