It's back on the road for the Dallas Stars. The Stars left this afternoon for California, where they will open a four-game road trip in San Jose Sunday night.
The Stars will be spending a lot of time on the road over the next three weeks, playing ten of their next 13 games away from home. It's been a bumpy ride on the road for the Stars, who are 9-18-4 away from home this season.
But the Stars have had some road success lately, sweeping a recent two-game trip against Florida and league-leading Washington. And the hope is to build off that as they face another tough trip with the Sharks, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Calgary on the agenda.
"We are looking at the teams we are playing, three of them - Edmonton, Calgary, and San Jose - are all in the playoffs," said Stars forward Adam Cracknell. "San Jose being what they are and making great strides in the past few years; they are a great team. It's going to be a huge challenge for us as a team. We've got to stick with the details and hopefully learn from what we did in Florida and Washington, that was a great trip. Hopefully, we can continue with the success."
The Stars will play for the first time this season against the Sharks, who went to the Stanley Cup Final last season and currently sit on top of the Pacific Division.
"It is weird [we haven't played them yet]," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "They play a real up-tempo, speed game. It's going to be a good test. Like Washington, deep at forward and they play a game where their defense is involved. It will be a similar style of test for us."
The Stars will play the Sharks three times over 13 days, including twice in Dallas.
Special teams work
The Stars practiced Saturday morning in Frisco and a considerable amount of time was devoted to special teams play.
"I didn't plan to spend that much time on it, but there have been so many moving pieces," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We've got Remi Elie up killing now and a couple of different pieces on the power play. We tried to put a little work in."
Special teams have been a sore spot for the Stars this season. The penalty kill ranks last in the league at 73.5 percent and has allowed 57 goals against, also worst in the league.
"We had it going in the right direction last year, finished tenth in the league. But we had a huge swing in personnel," Ruff said. "We've broken in some killers and at times it has been frustrating. It's a role some of these guys haven't had before. I like our structure, but I don't like how we are not in lanes and not taking enough shots away, especially in the middle of the ice."
The power play has been up and down, and it ranks 19th in the league at 18.3 percent. Ruff is looking to balance out the units. Here's what he rolled out in practice on Saturday.
Unit 1: Jamie Benn-Cody Eakin-Tyler Seguin-Patrick Sharp-John Klingberg
Unit 2: Ales Hemsky-Devin Shore-Brett Ritchie-Jason Spezza-Esa Lindell
"I am looking at two units," said Ruff. "I am trying to get that shift length on the power play down to 40-50 seconds and get the next unit going. I am hoping we can get two units that can produce."
Hemsky returns to practice
Ales Hemsky returned to practice after missing Friday's session due to soreness. Hemsky has been back in the lineup for four games after being out a little more than four months due to a hip injury that required surgery.
"He's better," Ruff said. "He's just going to have to deal with it the rest of the year."
Here' s a look at the upcoming road trip for the Stars.
Sun: at San Jose, 9:00 p.m. (FSSW)
Tue.: at Edmonton, 8:00 p.m. (FSSW)
Thu.: at Vancouver, 9:00 p.m. (FSSW)
Fri.: at Calgary, 8:00 p.m. (FSSW+)
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.