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Tough decisions loom for Stars as key players return to lineup

With Hintz and Klingberg expected back from injury against the Blackhawks, Dallas must figure out how to adjust

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
Stars (13-8-2) vs. Blackhawks (9-9-4)

7 p.m., American Airlines Center

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

 

DALLAS -- This is an interesting night for the Stars.

Dallas is 12-1-1 in its past 14 games and has received some great support from players like Justin Dowling, Mattias Janmark, Roman Polak and Taylor Fedun. But with Roope Hintz and John Klingberg ready to return from lower-body injuries, the Stars must make some hard decisions and some tough adjustments.

Hintz has missed seven games, but was the best player on the team through the first 17 games and still leads Dallas in goals with nine this season. Klingberg missed six games, but he has been the team's leader in ice time since he joined the NHL in 2014. Both need to play.

But with Klingberg and Hintz both coming in off of injuries, they could need some time to get up to speed. And with players coming out who have been part of the winning process, there could be some impact from the changes.

"There are going to be people coming out that don't deserve to come out right now," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "But we've got to do what's best for the Dallas Stars. We're in a good position right now. Just a month ago, we didn't have the luxury of making this kind of decision."

Among the candidates on defense are Polak, Fedun and Andrej Sekera. Both Sekera and Polak are veterans who have dealt with injuries and are now just getting back to their stride, so a possible scratch might have lasting impact. Fedun, however, has played so well that he has eight points (one goal, seven assists), is plus-4 and is averaging 13:51 in time on ice.

Among the forwards, Montgomery seems hesitant to break up the "FCC" line of Andrew Cogliano, Radek Faksa and Blake Comeau, and he probably doesn't want to take Janmark out after he played 11:32, had a goal, and was plus-2 Tuesday in a 5-3 win over Winnipeg while playing on a line with Jason Dickinson and Corey Perry.

Video: CHI@DAL: Montgomery previews divisional tilt at home

"I thought they were really good," Montgomery said. "I thought they built momentum for us. I thought with Perry it didn't matter who I threw him out with, he was building momentum; and it was good to have Janmark back."

Perry said he liked the chemistry with Janmark.

"He's got some speed. He's a smart player. He's got skill and a couple of those goals, he protected the puck," said Perry, who had three assists. "The goal he scored, he found a way to get back door and get lost. Good players do that."

Hintz will likely play on a line with Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov, and Montgomery said he is hopeful that Hintz can pick up where he left off as a confident offensive player.

"When a guy was playing as well as Roope was and he was carrying us, you just hope he comes back with that same mindset - being aggressive, taking pucks to the blue paint, shooting, playing to his strengths," Montgomery said.

And while Klingberg has struggled as a team-worst minus-10, Montgomery said he was playing well before he got hurt.

"I think Klinger was playing his best hockey in the last three to five games. He helped start this run that we're on, and we just expect him to keep going," Montgomery said. "The one thing to both of them being up top (watching) is they see we're five together and that the puck doing the work is the most important thing for our possession game."

 

What to watch

During this 12-1-1 run, Dallas has outscored the opposition 12-7 in first periods.

During the 1-7-1 start, the Stars were outscored 7-4 in first periods.

That's important for a Stars team that likes to play with the lead. Chicago on the season has outscored opponents 22-14 in first periods, so they like to get out to nice leads. They have been outscored 59-41 after the first period, so Dallas would like to get off to a fast start and control the game from there.

Video: CHI@DAL: Faksa's exceptional play paying off

 

Khudobin expected to start in net

Anton Khudobin is in goal for Dallas. He is 5-3-1 with a 2.31 GAA (sixth in the NHL) and a .921 save percentage (12th).

Khudobin is 2-5-0 in his career against the Blackhawks with a 3.02 GAA and .914 save percentage.

Robin Lehner is expected to start for Chicago. He is 2-5-1 in his career against Dallas with a 3.87 GAA and .884 save percentage.

Hintz is expected to play on a line with Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov, while there is a good chance Denis Gurianov gets a healthy scratch.

Klingberg will likely play beside Esa Lindell on defense and could also log some time with Miro Heiskanen. Each of those three defensemen is averaging more than 23 minutes of ice time per game.

Taylor Fedun could be your scratch on defense.

Video: CHI@DAL: Hintz ready for return to Stars' lineup

 

By the numbers
15

Chicago has scored the fewest second-period goals of any team in the NHL at 15. Dallas has allowed the fourth-fewest second-period goals at 14. Could be a good time to catch up on your reading.

 

58

Patrick Kane has tallied 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists) in 48 career games against the Stars. He is plus-13 in that span.

 

1,100

Duncan Keith will play his 1,100th game for the Blackhawks, third most in franchise history. Brent Seabrook has played 1,102, second most. Stan Mikita is the franchise leader at 1,394.

Video: Klingberg looking forward to making return to lineup

 

He said it

"I didn't think he could go to another level and he did again. It's unreal. We were sitting there like, 'Wow.' What you guys (the media) do, that's what we (the coaches) do. It's pretty amazing because we deal with these high-level athletes all the time, but he is at a level that you don't see very often."

-- Montgomery on the play of Miro Heiskanen

Video: VAN@DAL: Heiskanen buries one-timer off give-and-go

 

Stars' projected lineup

Jamie Benn - Justin Dowling - Tyler Seguin

Alexander Radulov - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski

Mattias Janmark - Jason Dickinson - Corey Perry

Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen

Andrej Sekera - Roman Polak

Anton Khudobin

Ben Bishop

Scratched: D Joel Hanley, D Taylor Fedun, RW Denis Gurianov

Injured: D Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches), C Martin Hanzal (back)

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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