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Preview: Stars at Rangers

New York center Mika Zibanejad returns; Dallas seeks end to road struggles

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

STARS (18-19-8) at RANGERS (28-15-1)

7 p.m. ET; MSG, FS-SW Plus, SN, SN1, TVA Sports, NHL.TV


Stars team scope

The Dallas Stars have lost back-to back-games in regulation and have allowed at least four goals in each. They are coming off of a 4-1 loss at the Buffalo Sabres on Monday. They dropped to 6-12-4 on the road and are 2-7-3 against teams from the Eastern Conference. Dallas has allowed 12 power-play goals in its past eight games and has the League's worst penalty-kill (74.3 percent). Captain Jamie Benn showed his frustration Monday when he broke three sticks. Benn has one point, an assist, and seven shots on goal in three games since returning from a four-game absence because of injury. "Pretty bad," Benn said of how he's played of late. "That's taking it easy on myself too. I wish I could say how I really feel but that's probably not good for TV." Benn said he thinks his play is contagious through the group. "I definitely have to do a better job with body language and definitely my play on the ice," Benn said. The Stars cancelled their morning skate Tuesday, so coach Lindy Ruff's lineup decisions remain unclear. "No one is going to feel sorry for us," forward Patrick Sharp said. "We've got to dig ourselves out of this hole and play better hockey."


Rangers team scope

The New York Rangers have lost two in a row, but they have good news. Center Mika Zibanejad will return to the lineup for the first time since Nov. 20, when he broke his left fibula in overtime of a 3-2 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers. Zibanejad has missed the past 25 games. He had 15 points in 19 games before the injury. "I have a lot of scenarios going through my head of how this game could go, but for me it's just getting back and playing simple," Zibanejad said. "It sounds very cliché but when you come back from a long injury like this I think it's just simplify things and kind of get back into it. It's going to take a couple games to get the feel for the timing and speed of the game. Just try to be solid from the start, take the opportunities when they're there but if they're not there just play simple." Zibanejad said he trusts his legs and doesn't feel skating will be an issue other than just trying to recondition himself to game speed. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said last week the staff put Zibanejad through the same conditioning test all players take in training camp. "His results as far as skating-wise were better than they were during training camp," Vigneault said. "He's utilized this time here real well." Vigneault will start Zibanejad on a line with Pavel Buchnevich and Rick Nash, each of whom recently missed time with his own injury before returning Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "We're going to have to be patient a little bit with [Zibanejad], with Pavel and even with Nasher to some extent," Vigneault said. "Those were longer injuries than normal. You've got to help the player, work with him here." Vigneault said the hope is that Zibanejad quickly returns to the way he was playing before the injury, when he had six points in six games. "He was really on the upswing," Vigneault said.


Stars projected lineup

Jamie Benn -- Tyler Seguin -- Patrick Eaves

Devin Shore -- Jason Spezza -- Brett Ritchie

Antoine Roussel -- Cody Eakin -- Jiri Hudler

Lauri Korpikoski -- Radek Faksa -- Patrick Sharp

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Dan Hamhuis -- Jordie Benn

Johnny Oduya -- Stephen Johns

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Scratched: Curtis McKenzie , Adam Cracknell , Patrik Nemeth

Injured: Jamie Oleksiak (upper body), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)


Rangers projected lineup

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan -- Mats Zuccarello

Rick Nash -- Mika Zibanejad -- Pavel Buchnevich

Michael Grabner -- Kevin Hayes -- J.T. Miller

Jimmy Vesey -- Brandon Pirri -- Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh -- Brady Skjei

Nick Holden -- Dan Girardi

Adam Clendening -- Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Magnus Hellberg

Scratched: Oscar Lindberg

Injured: Matt Puempel (concussion), Marc Staal (upper body), Antti Raanta (lower body)


Status report

Lindberg is the extra forward who will be scratched by Vigneault, who said he chose Pirri instead because he plays on the first power-play unit with Kreider, Stepan, Zuccarello and McDonagh and he has liked the look of that unit. Zibanejad is expected to play on the second power play unit with Nash, Buchnevich, Miller and Clendening.


Who's hot

Miller has goals in back-to-back games and 10 points (five goals, five assists) during a seven-game point streak. Hayes has 10 points, including eight assists, in the eight games. … Kreider has eight goals in the past nine games. … Faksa has a three-game point streak with a goal and two assists and seven points in his past six games.

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