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Where do Stars stand against league's best? They will soon find out

Dallas faces back-to-back measuring-stick games at Boston and St. Louis to wrap up a huge road trip

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
Stars (37-20-6) at Bruins (39-13-12)

6:30 p.m., TD Garden

TV: NBCSN

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

 

BOSTON -- The next two games are great tests for the Stars.

Dallas plays the team with the best record in the NHL on Thursday at Boston and then turns around and plays against the team with the best record in the West Saturday at St. Louis. The Blues won the Stanley Cup last season, beating the Bruins in seven games.

Oh yeah, and Dallas started this season with back-to-back losses to these two teams, so lots of motivation here.

"We'll get a good feel of where we are," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. "This has been a tough month, we know that. It's been a grind because of all the travel and everything. It's been a great opportunity for all of us to see where we are as a team, and these two games are going to give us another evaluation of just where we are."

The Stars are 9-2-2 in February and have pushed their scoring up to three goals a game for the month, so they definitely are moving forward under Bowness, who was named interim head coach on Dec. 10. However, Bowness said there are still plenty of details to work out, and that the team is trying to become better at possessing the puck, breaking out of their own zone, and managing the neutral zone.

"There's times we've hit it and times we have had bumps along the road," Bowness said when asked if his team was hitting on all cylinders. "I think every team does, and when we have those bumps, we correct them as fast as we can. We'd like to see over the last 20 games the consistency, but there are two teams out there. You could have the best plan in the world, and you could be a little bit off, and that's all it takes. For us, it's just a matter of keeping the focus on us and how we play and what we have to do to be successful."

Video: Bishop back in, Johns still out for Stars in Boston

The Stars are coming off a 4-1 win over Carolina where they were opportunistic in their scoring chances, but ended up being outshot 41-16. They beat Chicago, 2-1, in the game before that, and they were crushed by St. Louis in the game before that. That 5-1 loss to the Blues was particularly disappointing because the two teams are fighting for first place in the Central Division with Colorado, and the Stars didn't show up for a big game at home.

That said, they know the season isn't one game, and that there will be several challenges down the stretch to see where they finish.

"This is just a normal National Hockey League season, man," Bowness said. "Expect the unexpected. Every day is a new day and new challenges. We're not the same team we were in October. As the season goes along, you're supposed to improve, you're supposed to get better, we've done that.

"There's always challenges, there's always ups and downs, there's always bad games -- bad streaks, good streaks, good games. There's all of that."

And right now, with the Stars sitting 37-20-6 with 80 points, this is a great test.

"We know we've got a very good team," Bowness said. "We know we can defend, and we know we can continue to improve on the offensive side of the puck. We like our chances as much as anyone else. But we haven't done anything yet, and we have to keep getting better."

 

Stars aim to improve on faceoffs after rough stretch

The Stars have been one of the better faceoff teams in the NHL and enter Thursday's contest fifth in overall wins at 51.8 percent. However, they have lost the faceoff battle in their past four games, including getting roasted on the dots Tuesday at Carolina. The Stars went 22-32 against the Hurricanes, and that was one of the reasons for the shot differential.

"Our specialty teams were terrible in Carolina, we spent way too much time killing penalties last game because we lost faceoffs. Power play wasted time because we lost faceoffs, so we've got to get a lot stronger in that area," Bowness said. "These guys run a lot of faceoff plays, 5-on-4, 5-on-5, and so we're going to have to be a lot sharper on faceoffs than we have been."

Tyler Seguin is among the top faceoff men in the NHL at 58.9 percent and will likely go against former teammate Patrice Bergeron, who has been one of the best in the league throughout his career and currently sits at 57.7 percent.

"I didn't have a good faceoff night until the third period (against Carolina), so some of that is on the centerman and some of that is on the wingers and the D," said Seguin, who went 6-for-7. "Carolina jumps hard and jumps well, so we have to improve there, as well. If I have Bergeron, which I'm sure I will, then I'll try to do better."

Video: DAL@CAR: Seguin nets own rebound for opening goal

 

Johns to miss second straight game with upper-body injury

Defenseman Stephen Johns is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury that is not related to the post-traumatic headaches that kept him out for 22 months. He will sit out his second consecutive game.

The forward lines should stay the same, but the defense pairs will probably be shuffled. They were running Esa Lindell with John Klingberg, Jamie Oleksiak with Miro Heiskanen, and Andrej Sekera with Roman Polak in practice Wednesday. Bowness said the players can move around, and that the coaching staff is looking for the right fit against the Bruins.

Ben Bishop will get the start in net. He was pulled after giving up four goals on 13 shots against the Blues, and then Anton Khudobin played the next two games and allowed just two goals on 73 shots in getting wins against Chicago and Carolina.

Bishop has played in 41 games this year to 27 for Khudobin, so Bowness said he wants to get his No. 1 goalie up and running.

"It's time to get him back in action," Bowness said. "As well as Dobby has played, it's time to get Bish on a roll, too."

Video: DAL@MTL: Bishop extends his pad for clutch save in OT

 

By the numbers
2.45

Boston leads the NHL in team goals against average at 2.45. Dallas is second at 2.51. The Stars lead the NHL in save percentage at .921. Boston is third at .919.

 

Plus-20

Boston has 52 power-play goals and has allowed the opposition power play to score 32 times. That plus-20 is second in the NHL to Edmonton (plus-25). Dallas is plus-2 in special teams differential.

 

16-6-4

The Bruins are the best team in the NHL and have all sorts of crazy good stats, like being 21-3-9 at home. But the most amazing number might be the fact they are 16-6-4 when allowing the first goal. The next closest team is Tampa Bay, which is 13-10-3. The Stars are 14-16-3 when allowing the first goal, and they feel pretty good about that number.

 

He said it

"Just don't give them any odd-man rushes. We've got to make sure we've got bodies back. They're just so clean, they are the perfect line, and they're going to generate chances, so just minimize them as much as we can and make sure we have the right people on the ice."

-- Bowness on how the Stars have to shut down Boston's top line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak

 

Stars projected lineup

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Corey Perry

Mattias Janmark - Joe Pavelski - Alexander Radulov

Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau

Roope Hintz - Jason Dickinson - Denis Gurianov

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen

Andrej Sekera - Roman Polak

Ben Bishop

Anton Khudobin

Scratched: D Taylor Fedun

Injured: D Stephen Johns (upper body), C Martin Hanzal (back)

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars battle the Edmonton Oilers when they return home to American Airlines Center on Tuesday, March 3. The first 5,000 fans receive a limited-edition poster presented by Dr Pepper. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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