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Stars hope to halt mini-slump as they visit Penguins

by Adam Kimelman
STARS (28-23-12) at PENGUINS (38-22-4)

Last 10: Dallas 5-4-1; Pittsburgh 5-2-3

Season series:
This is the only meeting of the season between the teams. The last time they played was just over a year ago, when Evgeni Malkin had a goal and 2 assists as the Penguins won in Dallas, 4-1, on March 1, 2009. This is the first the teams have played in Pittsburgh since a 4-1 Penguins win on Nov. 30, 2007.

Big Story:
Can the Stars right the ship in a hurry? Dallas had gone 9-4-1 heading into the Olympic break, but Thursday's 6-1 loss to St. Louis was their second straight since the season re-started.

How much better can Malkin play? His game-winning goal Thursday against the Rangers pushed his scoring streak to 15 straight games, tied for the third-longest in the League this season. He has 9 goals and 24 points in his streak.

Team Scope:

Stars -- After making his season debut in Thursday loss to St. Louis, Kari Lehtonen likely will make his first start of the season Saturday in Pittsburgh. It's a long time coming for Lehtonen, who before his 38-minute stint against the Blues, hadn't played since April 11, 2009. He had offseason back surgery, and has been working on conditioning and strengthening his back since being traded to the Stars on Feb. 9.

He stopped 14 of 16 shots against the Blues after he replaced Marty Turco in the second period.

"I thought he was fine," coach Marc Crawford said following the game. "One goal went in off of Stephane Robidas' skate. I thought he looked good. In the third he had to face some really good chances. He's a big goaltender, butterfly guy, fills up a lot of the net. I think it's positive that he got those important minutes for him.''

"It was fine," Lehtonen said of his back. "That part felt good. We were worried about that, but it turned out good. I try every five minutes anyway to get up from the seat and do a little stretching and move around, so I think that helped."

Penguins --
His visa issues finally sorted out, Alexei Ponikarovsky will make his Pittsburgh debut Saturday. He's expected to skate at left wing on a line centered by Malkin, with Ruslan Fedotenko making it an all-Russian language threesome. And Ponikarovsky and Fedotenko grew up playing together in Kiev, Ukraine.

"When you come to the team and there's some Russian guys, and Ukrainians as well, it helps a lot," Ponikarovsky said. "It's nice to have somebody that you can talk to in your native language."

Coach Dan Bylsma wouldn't commit to linemates for Ponikarovsky, saying Bill Guerin's availability could alter his plans. Regardless, he's looking forward to seeing his newest forward in action.

"I've seen quite a bit of his last few games," Bylsma said. "We're getting a big body, willing to go to the net. Every game I've seen him play he's made a real good play in the offensive zone or the neutral zone for his line to either get a goal or get good scoring chances. I think the surprising thing when you watch him, he's very conscious on the defensive side of the puck, as well. He works hard on both sides of the puck. That was probably the biggest surprise about his game."

Who's Hot --
Stars center Brad Richards has gone six games without a goal and has just 2 goals in his last 10 games, but that doesn't mean he's not producing -- he has 7 assists in that span. … Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar had a pair of assists Thursday, pushing his scoring streak to five games.

Injury Report --
The Stars will be without forward Brian Sutherby, who is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. … Guerin sat out Thursday's game with back spasms, and Bylsma said he'll be a game-time decision for the Penguins on Saturday.

Stat Pack --
The Penguins have won four straight against the Stars, a streak that dates to March 2, 2003. The Stars haven't won in Pittsburgh since Dec. 23, 2000.

Puck Drop --
Despite pulling goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period, after he allowed four goals on 12 shots, Bylsma said Fleury would be in net Saturday.

"I didn't feel like he was sharp and on his game," Bylsma said. "He hasn't seen a lot of pucks and he hasn't seen a lot of practice time. Marc's a great goalie, he's our No. 1 goalie and he's going to get back in there. In this situation I was maybe a little more aware of where he was at given the fact that he hadn't seen a lot of pucks or played a lot of game in the last two weeks."

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