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Back on the Road

by Travis Betts / Dallas Stars

The Stars practiced in Frisco Wednesday for the last time before embarking on a three-game road trip. The team will travel to San Jose to play the first place Sharks on Thursday. The Stars will then head to Phoenix for a game against their former head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes on Saturday, before finishing the trip in Detroit next Wednesday against the Red Wings. Including last Saturday’s meeting with Minnesota, the Stars are in the middle of a unique stretch of their season, playing four straight road games in four different time zones.

Dallas’ schedule is light right now, with four days off before their match-up with the Sharks on Thursday. Marc Crawford said he likes the extra time to prepare for a tough opponent.

“The first game has been our focus all week. San Jose is such a good team to focus for. They do capture your attention because of the big players – the  Heatley’s, the Marleau’s, the Thornton’s. Those people capture your attention right away. And the fact that they’re in first place captures your attention too. It’s always a terrific atmosphere at the HP Pavilion.”

Despite off-ice issues during training camp, the Phoenix Coyotes have started the year playing well, and are tied with Dallas in the standings with 20 points.

“Phoenix obviously will have its own challenges. They’re playing extremely well, and of course with Dave Tippett being there, I think there will be a little added attention from both sides,” said Crawford.

The Stars are also in the middle of eight straight games against Western Conference teams. Krystofer Barch recognizes the importance of two straight divisional games, especially with the parity in today’s NHL. The feisty winger knows a trip like this can sometimes break a logjam in the standings.

“It puts everybody in reach of first place in the division. That could jump you from eighth to third, second or first in the conference.”

Injury report
Fabian Brunnstrom injured his shoulder in practice Tuesday and is listed as day-to-day. Barch will likely take his place in the lineup Thursday at San Jose. James Neal, who missed the last two games with an injured groin, practiced and is probable for Thursday’s game.

With no players on injured reserve, the Stars have enjoyed the comfort of being able to rely on their depth, especially at the forward positions. Mike Ribeiro says playing four lines keeps the top-line skaters fresher throughout the season.

“We’ve been rolling four lines all year, and everyone’s producing offensively. Guys look like they have more energy, too,” Ribeiro said. “A different line every night has been producing, and getting the game-winning goal that we need. It could be anyone.”

Wandell shows potential
One player who has made a case to stay in the lineup has been Tom Wandell. The Swedish center has played in all 17 games this season, with two goals and four assists. In trying to find where Wandell fits best on the team, Crawford has exposed the 22-year-old to a variety of circumstances which he says will make him a well-rounded player.

“I think Wandell can eventually be a very good offensive player,” Crawford said. “He’s learning the defensive side of it as well. I think he’s got the potential to be one of those great defensive players that Dallas has always had. You go back to the Carbonneau’s and the Lehtinen’s, and Wandell has that ability. He thinks the game and positions himself really well, and he’s got offensive skill to go with it.”

Grossman thriving
Nicklas Grossman has been relied upon to shut down opponents’ top lines this season and has a +6 rating through 17 games. Stephane Robidas, Grossman’s defensive partner for most of the season, is impressed at how the 24-year-old has stepped up to play big minutes.

“He’s confident. He knows what he can do. He knows he can play against the best players in the league and he’s just mature. Even though he’s a young guy, he’s a mature guy. He’s not cocky or arrogant. He’s very humble and I think he wants to learn a lot.”

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