The NHL on Tuesday announced the Stars restructured schedule after four games were postponed by winter weather in Texas last week. In addition to now squeezing 43 games into 76 days, the league changed the order of some road trips, including taking one of the games in this originally scheduled five-game road trip and moving it back to Dallas.
The result is the Stars have to do a lot of changing to adapt.
"We're going to manage it as best we can," said Stars coach Rick Bowness. "It's condensed and it's changed up a lot of travel plans and practice days we've lost. It's like everything else that has been thrown at us over the past couple of years, we'll deal with it as best we can."
[GAME DAY GUIDE: How to watch, live stream Stars at Panthers]
The Stars last season had to shut down in March and start back up in August. They played the playoffs in the Edmonton bubble and started this season in January. Dallas had the first four games of the season postponed because of an outbreak of COVID-19, and now has to make up eight games going forward.
The Stars have played the fewest amount of games in the league so far at 13, and the strain of catching up will be difficult.
"The league has done the best job they can to help us through this, but when you lose eight games in already a condensed schedule, that's tough," Bowness said.
"Hockey is not meant to be played four in six, let alone what we're going to do. This is going to be incredibly taxing on our players, there's no questions. You run the risk of guys who have to play 20 to 22 minutes a night in order to give us a good chance to win, and you know it's going to affect them the most. Those are the guys you worry about, because they are going to be playing tired a lot of nights."
Video: Bowness: Updated schedule will be 'incredibly taxing'
The Stars' top three defensemen -- Esa Lindell, Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg -- average 23 minutes a night. The guess is the coaching staff will start asking players like Jamie Oleksiak (20:06), Andrej Sekera (17:18) and Mark Pysyk (13:00) to do more. They also could make use of players like Joel Hanley and Taylor Fedun to give nights off.
Bowness said that while coaches have taken the attitude of "one game at a time," that might have to be altered a little bit depending on how a game is going.
"We do take that approach, but when you're playing three in four or four in six, you have to manage ice differently," Bowness said. "You can't be saying we have to win this no matter what and throw it all out there, because that will come back to bite you. We've got a lot of ground to catch up not only in terms of games, but in terms of points, but that being said, we can't play Miro and John 25, 26 minutes every night, because eventually that's going to backfire."
The NHL this year has allowed teams to use a six-man taxi squad that travels with the team and allows quick call-ups. The Stars have used a lot of their roster already, rotating forwards like Justin Dowling, Tanner Kero, Joel L'Esperance, Nick Caamano and Rhett Gardner in. They play seven games in the next 11 days, so Bowness said the taxi squad will get heavy use.
"We've said from Day 1 that we've got to get the guys on the taxi squad involved, we've got to keep them playing," Bowness said. "There's going to be more injuries coming up. When you look at the schedule, I see injuries written all over it, so it's very important to keep the taxi guys involved in the lineup."
The Stars today have a 5 p.m. local start in Florida and the two teams line up and play again Thursday starting at 7 p.m. That means the theory of lineup depth will be tested early.
"We've always been a four-line team, and when we're on the road this is where we have to trust our players because we don't get the matchups," Bowness said. "So there's a lot involved in managing this. Those are the decisions we'll just have to make as we go along here."
Benn: 'We definitely have to step up our game' in restructured season
The restructured 2020-21 season has all sorts of challenges for the Stars, and one of the key ones is the division-only schedule that has them playing each team eight times. Because the top three in the division so far are traditionally from the Eastern Conference, that means learning new things and learning to adapt quickly.
Dallas played Florida once last year, and the Panthers have made significant changes in the off-season, so this will be interesting. The Panthers hired new general manager Bill Zito in September, and he has made over the roster. Among the newcomers are forwards Patric Hornqvist, Anthony Duclair, Alex Wennberg and Carter Verhaeghe.
They have helped Florida out to a 12-3-1 start with the fifth best scoring average (3.41 goals per game) and the second most shots on goal per game (33.5).
Video: DAL Recap: Khudobin makes 49 saves in defeat
"The guys are coming to play each and every night, doing what we have to do," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "Playing right has been very noticeable. ... If you play hard and you play with purpose, you give yourself a chance shift in, shift out."
The Stars are playing Florida three times in four days, so they quickly are understanding just how good this team can be.
"We learned they're a good team. I think they're playing with a lot of confidence," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "They've got a lot of good players over there, and Mr. Quenneville's got them going good. I think we know what to expect, we know how good they are, and we definitely have to step up our game."
Stars eye Radulov's return after road trip
Anton Khudobin will be back in net for the Stars. He stopped 49 shots on Monday, allowing just two goals in a 3-1 loss.
Bowness said there could be lineup changes, but would not specify what they might be. Asked if the changes are because of injuries or coach's decision, he said: "A little bit of both. We've got some banged up guys, but yeah, I'm being as vague as I can."
The Stars on Tuesday placed Tanner Kero on waivers and also continues to send players back and forth to the taxi squad. Because of that, there will be some amount of guessing as to what the lineup might be.
Bowness said he did like recent changes, such as playing Jason Dickinson with Blake Comeau and Andrew Cogliano or putting Benn with Radek Faksa, but that he might not be able to keep those combinations together today.
Video: DAL@FLA: Khudobin makes a sprawling save on Duclair
Bowness updated the status on Alexander Radulov, who is expected to miss his sixth straight game with a lower-body injury.
"We're hoping for next week at some point," Bowness said. "That'll depend on when he gets back skating and how everything feels."
Benn said Radulov, who has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in eight games, has been missed.
"Rads is a big part of our group," Benn said. "He brings a lot of energy. He's a hard working guy with a lot of offensive skill. We've just got to find a way to fill that void as a group."
By the numbers
The Stars allowed 29 shots on goal against in the second period in a 3-1 loss to Florida on Monday. It was a franchise record for shots against in one period. The Stars this season rank 13th in fewest shots against per game at 29.3
Benn has 16 points (10 goals, six assists) in his past 10 games against the Panthers.
The Panthers will again go with Chris Driedger in net. The 26-year-old, who was expected to be the backup, is 7-1-1 with a 2.20 GAA and .929 save percentage.
He said it
"We have to fix our hunger for 60 minutes. The players have to take some ownership of what's going on. It was good to hear some guys speak up last night. Again, we're going to keep pushing. We're going to stay on them." -- Bowness on his team's 0-3-3 slump and how some players expressed anger during a 3-1 loss to Florida on Monday
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.