When the Stars last had four games postponed to start the season because of the COVID pandemic, they came out buzzing in a 7-0 win over Nashville Jan. 22 and looked fantastic.
When they were trying to break a five-game winless streak Jan. 15 against the Predators, coach Rick Bowness said he felt the players were intense all day before weather in Texas canceled the game at the last minute.
Now, as the team has survived another week away from games (with another four postponed because of the weather) and another minicamp at Comerica Center in Frisco, the challenge is to find that energy again -- this time on the road against the Florida Panthers.
"It's been a long time, but talking to the guys, it's game day again and we've got to flip the switch," Bowness said. "The break is over and we're playing a very highly competitive team. It feels great and now we've got to get the rust off."
Stars forward Jason Dickinson said that the team has learned to deal with adversity over the past two seasons, overcoming all manner of challenges in the Edmonton bubble and still finding a way to get to the Stanley Cup Final. Now, he said, they have to use that experience.
Video: Dickinson: 'One goal in mind' as Stars resume play
"When we get a break like this, we need to try to turn it into an advantage for us, and kind of use it as a reset," Dickinson said. "We need to try to come out with the intensity as if we were playing every other day."
The Stars are on a five-game winless streak (0-2-3) and have been struggling on the penalty kill. They've used practice time to work on special teams and say they expect to be much improved. Goalie Anton Khudobin, who is scheduled to get the start in net, is 0-3-1 in his past four starts, but has been able to work on his game, as well.
Bowness said the team needs to weather the storm early against the Panthers, who are coming off a 2-1 loss at Detroit Saturday, but were on a 5-1-0 roll before that.
"We've got to survive that first 10 minutes and get through this and get our game mindset back," Bowness said. "The biggest thing for us is to recognize that we're playing a very good team and we've got to get the rust off early. We can't play a cute game, we better make sure we're making them play a 200-foot game."
Dickinson said they have done it before.
"It's frustrating and crazy," he said. "This year is unlike any other, so you've just got to be ready to roll with the punches and create that mentality that whatever happens, happens. We've got a good group that knows how to stick with it and not lose our focus."
Pysyk: 'Definitely going to be weird' reunion with Panthers
Stars defenseman Mark Pysyk will return to Florida to face his old Panthers teammates for the first time Monday.
Pysyk, 29, played four seasons with the Panthers and then signed a one-year, free-agent deal with the Stars in the offseason. He said it will be a strange experience.
"It's going to be, I think, a little weird to be going back to a place where I spent the last four years, definitely going to be weird," Pysyk said. "It's a new journey now, I'm on this team, and hopefully we can go in there and play them three times in a row, and hopefully get three wins."
Video: CAR@DAL: Pysyk follows own rebound with goal down low
Pysyk was a hybrid player who toggled between forward and defense with the Panthers, but has been almost exclusively a defenseman in Dallas. He is averaging 12:52 in time on ice, and Bowness said the hope is he will get even more minutes on the penalty kill and help get some relief for Miro Heiskanen, who is playing 23:10 right now.
"His play has improved," Bowness said. "When you play on one team for so long, you've got to make some adjustments to your game. It's never as easy as it sounds. We play different than how Florida played last year. Some of the things we needed him to adjust to, he's adjusted to very well.
"He's got to be a reliable defenseman, he's got to become one of our top penalty killers, he's got to take some minutes away from Miro. He's been doing that, and he's been much more reliable than earlier in the year. He's adjusted. He's a wonderful teammate, we all knew that when we got him, and you had to give him some games to find out where he fits on our team."
Khudobin back in net for Stars; Hintz to return
Khudobin will be back in net for the Stars. Jake Oettinger has started three of the past four games, in part because Khudobin is 0-3-1 in his past four starts. Khudobin has a 4-2-0 career record against Florida with a 2.01 GAA and .940 save percentage.
Video: Bowness says it's time for Stars to 'flip the switch'
Roope Hintz (lower body) is expected to return to play. He will likely center a line with Jason Robertson and Denis Gurianov that has been the Stars' hottest line in recent games. The rest of the lineup could be shuffled, as the team was running Jamie Benn with Radek Faksa and Ty Dellandrea, as well as Joe Pavelski with Tanner Kero and Joel Kiviranta Sunday at practice.
By the numbers
Florida ranks fifth in goals per game at 3.44 and second in shots on goal per game at 32.4. Dallas ranks eighth in goals against average at 2.67 and fourth in fewest shots against at 27.4
Benn has 16 points (10 goals, six assists) in his past nine games against the Panthers.
The Panthers are 7-1-2 in one-goal games this season. Dallas is 2-1-4.
He said it
"He's had a good stretch here. He's got an opportunity right now to get a little bit more than just the odd game. He's taken advantage of it. We'll see how that plays out. We expect [Sergei Bobrovsky] to be pushing him and getting the net back, but the opportunity is there for Driegs to play a little bit more than normal. We'll see where it takes us."
-- Florida coach Joel Quenneville on 26-year-old goalie Chris Driedger, who is 6-1-1 with a 2.34 goals against average and .926 save percentage in his first extended run of NHL play
Stars projected lineup
Jason Robertson - Roope Hintz - Denis Gurianov
Tanner Kero - Joe Pavelski - Joel Kiviranta
Jamie Benn - Radek Faksa - Ty Dellandrea
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera - Mark Pysyk
Photo credit: Jeff Toates/Dallas Stars
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.