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What to watch for as Stars seek season sweep of Habs

Dallas looks to even its record on this road trip against a Montreal team missing several key pieces

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

MONTREAL -- The Dallas Stars will be looking to take advantage of a battered, weary Montreal Canadiens team at Bell Centre tonight and even their record on this six-game road trip at 1-1.

Here's what to watch for.

 

Take advantage of what is given

For the third straight game, the Stars will take on a team coming off a road game the night before.

The Stars are 1-1 in those games, having defeated Anaheim and then lost Sunday night in Pittsburgh. But the Canadiens are in a different place than those two playoff-hopeful teams.

The Habs are playing out the string and missing key pieces of their lineup, including starting netminder Carey Price, captain Max Pacioretty and anchor defenseman Shea Weber. They are coming off a 5-2 loss in Columbus.

But if the Stars are thinking ahead to Wednesday's game in Toronto, against a much different, better team in the Maple Leafs, then they would do well to remember their overtime loss to Ottawa last week -- a game in which it seemed the Stars were looking ahead to the next night against Nashville.

And give the Habs credit: they never quit against Columbus, pushing to get back on even footing late in the game with 24 third-period shots.

Video: Radulov returns to Montreal

 

Still, facts are facts

This is a good opportunity for Dallas to work out some kinks against a team that gives up a ton missing those key players.

The Canadiens have three wins in their last 14 games and have given up three or more goals nine times over that span. For a Dallas squad that has struggled to find offense in recent days, scoring three or more just twice in its last seven games, this would be a good opportunity to gather some offensive confidence moving into the meat of this road trip.

There's every likelihood that the Stars will face an old friend in netminder Antti Niemi, who was bought out of the final year of his contract by the Stars in the offseason. Niemi, who has played in Pittsburgh and Florida before landing in Montreal, has been excellent for the Canadiens, allowing nine goals in his last five games.

The Stars' power play should also get a chance to exploit a Canadiens penalty kill that has struggled to keep opposing teams off the score sheet, allowing at least one power-play goal in six straight games, including giving up two on three opportunities against Columbus Monday.

The Montreal power play has also struggled, going 1-for-18 in its last six games, which, again, should tilt the table in favor of the Stars.

 

A homecoming of sorts

Alexander Radulov never wants for emotion or energy when he comes to the rink, but it won't be any surprise if there's an extra jump in his stride tonight as he plays for the first time at Bell Centre since signing a five-year deal in the offseason with Dallas.

Radulov, of course, signed a one-year deal with Montreal prior to last season when he ended his exile in the Kontinental Hockey League and became an instant fan-favorite in Montreal. Even now, he seems humbled at the opportunity that he was given to play in the hockey hotbed.

"It's all about hockey here," Radulov said as he was surrounded by a large media crowd this morning. "I was really lucky to have a chance to play here and enjoyed my time. I want say, one more time, thank you to the Montreal organization to give me a chance to get back in the NHL."

Look for Radulov to begin the night playing with the big boys -- Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

As for the possibility that fans will boo him, having signed with another team, Radulov -- tied for second in team scoring with 60 points -- seemed Zen.

"I can't control that, you know. It's simple as that," he said. "I loved them all. That's the bottom line."

 

Kari's time once more

We get that hockey is not a just sport and that things don't necessarily happen because they should, but if there was any justice, the Stars would reward Kari Lehtonen with some run support.

Lehtonen will make his fourth straight start in place of the injured Ben Bishop, and he has been terrific, allowing just four goals in games against Nashville, Anaheim and Pittsburgh. In those three games, the Stars have gone 1-2 and scored three times.

That obviously won't cut it, and Hitchcock has jigged and re-jigged his forward lines in the hopes of coaxing some offense from his group.

Certainly, Lehtonen has done his part in keeping games close, waiting for that offensive explosion, which, to this point, has not revealed itself, and he is expected to start every game until Bishop returns to the lineup.

"My plan is to play Kari until I see Ben. Period," Hitchcock said.

Speaking of Bishop, the Stars netminder who was injured more than a week ago when Dan Hamhuis fell on his left knee in a game against Ottawa, skated with full gear Monday and then took the ice again after his teammates finished their morning skate.

"He just skated while you guys were here," Hitchcock said. "And he stopped pucks today, which is a good sign. He did it on the knees and standing up. Our feeling is that he'll join the full practice in Ottawa (on Thursday), so that'll be the first step of getting back into the process. We're assuming that he (fully) practices with us in Ottawa."

Video: DAL@PIT: Radulov buries sharp-angle shot for PPG

 

Lineup matters

With Hitchcock reassembling the big line seemingly from the start of tonight's game, it creates some minor ripples through the forward contingent.

One player that will look a little different will be Mattias Janmark, who has shed the cage that he's been wearing the past few games to protect injuries sustained when he took a high stick to the face. It's been a struggle for the speedy Janmark to find pucks and make plays with the cage, but he's healed sufficiently now that he's gone back to his normal visor.

"It's going to be nice," Janmark said. "Yeah, for sure, it's different. I don't know, you try not to think about it, but it's kind of disturbing, so I'll probably feel a lot better tonight."

Janmark looks like he'll play on the wing with center Jason Dickinson and Devin Shore on what would be the team's second line.

Janmark believes a good start against the Canadiens will be important as they hope to set the tone early.

"They're kind of hanging around just finishing the season, so we've got to show them that we're here to do business, and really, the two points for us can't be any bigger, so we really need to show that to everyone watching to show that we really want these points," he said.


 

Stars projected lineup

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Devin Shore - Jason Dickinson - Mattias Janmark
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Remi Elie - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Marc Methot - Stephen Johns

Kari Lehtonen
Mike McKenna

Scratched: Gemel Smith, Julius Honka
Injured: Ben Bishop (knee), Martin Hanzal (back)

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

Scott Burnside is a senior digital correspondent for DallasStars.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his podcast.

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