The Dallas Stars held an optional skate this morning at American Airlines Center as they prepared to take on the Detroit Red Wings tonight to open a four-game homestand. Stars captain Jamie Benn and center Tyler Seguin were both on the ice for the skate, and then they were the center of attention when they headed to the locker room.
The assembled media was waiting to hear from Benn and Seguin after the two were criticized by Stars CEO Jim Lites in a couple of media interviews Friday.
"It's only about performance. It has nothing to do with character," Lites said after stories relaying some harsh criticism were published in both the Dallas Morning News and The Athletic. "I just don't think our top players are getting the job done. I share that opinion with our owner. People will say, 'Oh, it's about the contract.' It's really not. All we really care about is just performance."
Benn and Seguin both responded to the comments from Lites on Saturday.
"I read the article, and it is what it is. People have their opinions on the outside, and all it really is is noise," Benn said. "When there is a situation within the organization I try to keep it within the organization and deal with it face to face. I come to the rink every day and wear the Dallas Stars jersey proudly and play hard for the fans, my teammates."
"Jamie and I hear the message. I think the whole team hears it. We know that we have to play better and we understand that," Seguin said. "So, we're going to continue to work every day and keep getting better. I come to the rink every day, you know, the Stars are my heart, and they're my team. They're where I've wanted to be and why I signed here, so I'm going to continue to work."
Video: Benn, Seguin meet with reporters after morning skate
Seguin and Benn lead the Stars in scoring, but their offensive numbers are down as the team has put together a 19-16-3 record and is clinging to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Benn has 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 38 games, putting him on a pace for about 64 points (32 goals, 32 assists). Seguin has 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 38 games and is on a pace for 69 points (24 goals, 45 assists).
Those numbers are not on par with past production. Both players said they can be better.
"For sure," said Benn. "I think everyone looks at the numbers and that's the easiest thing to look at. The point production isn't where it could be or should be or was, so it's easy to point to that."
Said Seguin: "I understand I need to be better, Jamie understands that he needs to be better, and we need to lead this team to be better. I think our organization needs to be better. I think everyone is frustrated the last couple of years and it kind of came on us. "
Coach Jim Montgomery said no one is happy where the Stars are right now as they sit on the playoff bubble. He is looking for the team's best players, not just Benn and Seguin, but Alexander Radulov, John Klingberg, Ben Bishop to lead the way. And when it comes to Benn and Seguin, the Stars coach believes they can rise to the challenge.
"Usually top players when they face adversity like this have a really good response," Montgomery said, "that's what I expect from them too."
Hintz to center line with Benn, Radulov
Roope Hintz, who was recalled from the AHL Friday, will be in the lineup tonight and center a line with Benn and Radulov on the wings. Seguin will center Devin Shore and Denis Gurianov.
As for splitting up Benn and Seguin, Stars coach Jim Montgomery had this to say:
"We want to see more speed through the middle playing with Jamie," he said. "And we want Seguin to have more speed on the wings."
Montgomery said he liked the line of Blake Comeau, Radek Faksa, and Tyler Pitlick so that trio will stay intact. Jason Spezza will center Mattias Janmark and Brett Ritchie. Valeri Nichushkin is the expected scratch at forward.
Julius Honka will come in on defense and play on the third pair with Taylor Fedun. Montgomery said Connor Carrick is still not ready to play in a game.
"We don't feel Carrick is in playing shape yet," Montgomery said. "And he hasn't had enough practice time to assimilate from the injury."
The other defense pairs are expected to be Esa Lindell-John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen- Roman Polak.
Ben Bishop gets the start in goal.
Opposition watch: Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings (15-18-6) are coming off a 5-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Thursday. It was the third straight loss for Detroit and the seventh in the last eight games (1-5-2). The Red Wings have lost five straight on the road (0-4-1). Jonathan Bernier was the first goaltender off the ice at the Red Wings optional skate this morning, so he could be in goal tonight.
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Stars and Red Wings. The Red Wings won the first meeting, 4-2, in Detroit on Oct. 28
The Stars are 11-5-1 at home.
The Red Wings are 7-9-3 on the road.
The Stars are 6-9-1 vs. the Eastern Conference.
The Red Wings are 5-4-1 vs. the Western Conference.
The Stars are tied for third in goals against at 2.68 per game.
The Red Wings rank 23rd in goals for at 2.79 per game.
The Stars rank 27th in goals for at 2.66 per game.
The Red Wings rank 25th in goals against at 3.26 per game.
Who: Detroit Red Wings at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM/96.7-FM
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn - Roope Hintz - Alexander Radulov
Devin Shore - Tyler Seguin - Denis Gurianov
Blake Comeau - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Julius Honka - Taylor Fedun
Scratched: Valeri Nichushkin
Injured: Connor Carrick (foot), Martin Hanzal (back), Jason Dickinson (back), Marc Methot (knee), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches)
Red Wings projected lineup
Andreas Athanasiou - Dylan Larkin - Justin Abdelkader
Thomas Vanek - Frans Nielsen - Gustav Nyquist
Tyler Bertuzzi - Luke Glendening - Michael Rasmussen
Christoffer Ehn - Jacob de la Rose - Wade Megan
Niklas Kronwall - Nick Jensen
Jonathan Ericsson - Trevor Daley
Dennis Cholowski - Filip Hronek
Scratched: Luke Witkowski, Martin Frk
Injured: Danny DeKeyser (upper body), Mike Green (lower body), Darren Helm (upper body), Anthony Mantha (upper body)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.