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Stars try to slow down Penguins

by Mike Battaglino

PENGUINS (36-13-2) at STARS (23-20-8)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 7-2-1; Dallas 3-6-1

Season series: This is the first game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars since Feb. 29, 2012, when the Penguins won 4-3 in a shootout. Pittsburgh is 7-1-0 against Dallas since 2003-04.

Big story: Dallas' improving power play will be tested by Pittsburgh's NHL-best penalty kill. The Stars have scored at least one power-play goal in each of their past six games (7-for-21), and the Penguins have allowed three in 37 times shorthanded over their past 12 games.

"We're at a point now where we know we can kill penalties and have confidence going out there and doing it," Penguins penalty-killer Brandon Sutter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pittsburgh's power play also leads the League, but Dallas has killed off 11 straight penalties in its past four games.

"Special teams will be a big deal," Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the team website Friday. "They can make some really good plays. Our discipline is going to have to be real good."

Team Scope:

Penguins: Defenseman Matt Niskanen was plus-3 in a 6-4 win against the New York Islanders on Thursday and now leads the NHL at plus-29, ahead of teammate Chris Kunitz, who's plus-25.

"As a defenseman, I don't like those [kind of games]," Niskanen told the Penguins website Thursday. "... As a defenseman, it's a challenge, but I think you saw when we were able to beat [their] pressure, we got some offense going and were able to score enough goals."

Niskanen had two assists against the Islanders. He has nine points in a career-high six-game point streak, and 17 points in his past 16 games.

Stars: Rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin was back on a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on Thursday, and they combined for nine points in a 7-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nichushkin, who had two goals and an assist, sat out the prior two games as a healthy scratch.

"The plan is to keep [Valeri] there regularly as long as the line keeps producing," Ruff said. "It's easier at home when I get my matchups vs. some of the tougher matchups we get on the road. … They'll be together, I would say, probably 80 percent of the time.

"A big part is Val's energy and his game is back up, his skating is back up. He's on his feet again, and that has made a big difference."

Who's hot: Kunitz has 25 goals, one short of his career high (2011-12). Center Sidney Crosby had three points Thursday; his 72 leads the NHL by nine. Defenseman Olli Maatta has five points in his past four games. Defenseman Kris Letang is on a four-game point streak. … Benn had a goal (his 100th in the NHL) and three assists Thursday. Defenseman Alex Goligoski has back-to-back two-assist games, and seven in his past six. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen has allowed one goal in his past two games.

Injury report: Penguins forward Andrew Ebbett (broken ankle) was activated off injured reserve Thursday but did not play. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot, hip) resumed skating this week. Forwards Beau Bennett (wrist surgery), Chris Conner (hand surgery), Pascal Dupuis (knee surgery), Brian Gibbons (lower body) and Joe Vitale (sprained right wrist) are on IR. … Stars forward Cody Eakin (upper body) left the game against Toronto in the third period and did not practice Friday, but is expected to play. Forwards Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff did not practice (maintenance). Defenseman Stephane Robidas (broken leg) is on IR.

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