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Stars start homestand by taking on Predators

by Matthew Mankiewich
PREDATORS (3-0-3) at STARS (5-1-0)

TV -- TXA 21 (HD)

Season series --
First of four regular-season meetings; the two teams alternated wins last year, splitting in both venues. Overall, Dallas has a 17-4-1 record against Nashville at American Airlines Center, most recently a 6-0 win last Oct. 14. However, they're only 3-3-0 versus the Predators at home over the last three seasons.

Big story --
The Predators have played only one road game so far this year, but will be away from Bridgestone Arena for 12 of their next 15 games. The Stars are off to their best start since 2005-06 when they opened 8-1-0, and begin a six-game homestand where they're looking to go 3-0-0 to start for the first time since 2006-07.

Team scope:

Predators --
The only team in the NHL yet to record a regulation loss, the Preds just finished a 1-0-3 home stretch, dropping the last three in overtime. On Thursday the Penguins skated away with the extra point, handing the Preds a 4-3 loss before a sellout crowd. It was the second time in those three games the Predators blew a third-period lead.

"It should make us hungrier, we battled so hard, but we're not playing the full 60 minutes. I don't know if there's distractions, I don't know what," Nashville forward Jerred Smithson told the Tenneseean. "Maybe it's good for us to go out on the road and kind of get away and just get back to a gritty hard-nosed style where it doesn't have to be pretty."

Without injured veteran defenseman Ryan Suter to help contain them, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin went on a scoring rampage, Crosby with a pair of goals and an assist, Malkin with one each.

Stars -- Sometimes the numbers don't add up. A team that's taken the fewest shots per game in the NHL (23.0), allowed the third-most (36.3) and has the worst penalty kill (64.3 percent) in the league shouldn't be 5-1. Should they?

"We are doing some things well and some things not as well, and we've been able to win four games like that," coach Marc Crawford told the Dallas Morning News on Wednesday. "So we need to fix what we aren't doing well and win more games."

So far, so good. After allowing 44 shots and four power-play goals in a 5-4 loss Monday to the Lightning, the Stars killed all three of the Panthers' power-play opportunities, cut the shots down to 28 and turned in a solid 4-1 win Thursday night.

Who's hot -- One thing the Stars are doing well is scoring, leading the NHL in goals per game (3.67). Jamie Benn returned from a three-day absence due to concussion-like symptoms and logged a career-high three assists in the Florida game, while linemates Tom Wandell (2 goals) and Steve Ott (1 goal) put on the finishing touches.

"That was a tremendous performance from the line of Wandell, Ott and Jamie Benn coming back into the lineup," Crawford said. "That takes pressure off the (other) lines."

Injury report -- Suter (lower body) is on injured reserve, which means he is required to stay out a week, setting the target return date at next Thursday at home against the Blues. Coach Barry Trotz told the Tennessean there is a chance he could be skating as early as Monday. Center Marcel Goc (separated shoulder) is still two to four weeks away, while center Matthew Lombardi (concussion) hasn't played or practiced since being scratched last Thursday against the Blues.

Stat pack -- J-P Dumont has 13 points in 15 games against the Stars since joining the Preds in 2006. … Smithson leads the NHL in faceoff efficiency at 69.7 percent. … Since the 2010 Olympic break, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne has a 13-4-4 record with a 1.99 goals-against average. … Opponents held a total 190-109 shots advantage over the Stars in the first five games, but the Stars outshot the Panthers 29-28. … Dallas center Brad Richards is in a four-way tie for second in the NHL in points with 10.

Puck drop --
The secret of the Stars' early success may be equal-strength scoring. As Stars blogger Bob Sturm points out on the official team website, they were plus-15 in 2007-08, a season in which they went to the Western Conference Finals. That margin dropped to minus-9 in '08-09 and minus-11 last year, with a commensurate drop in the standings. Through six games, however, the Stars have outscored opponents 19-6 at equal strength, a plus-13.

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