Stars forward Mats Zuccarello, who had surgery for his broken arm three and a half weeks ago, took part in the team's optional pregame skate this morning and said he is making progress as he works his way back to playing.
"Better than a couple of days ago for sure," Zuccarello said. "It's nice to get a little skate with some of the teammates."
Zuccarello suffered the injury in the Feb. 24 game against Chicago just one day after the Stars acquired him from the New York Rangers for two draft picks. He had the surgery two days later and was expected to miss at least four weeks. He started skating a couple of weeks ago and began stickhandling last week.
"It increases every day," Zuccarello said of the stickhandling. "Maybe a week, just started light and now I can shoot a little bit more, but it still hurts a little bit."
Zuccarello will travel with the Stars when they leave Sunday for a four-game road trip that will take them to Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
"I am excited to be with the team. I haven't been able to be around the team that much being hurt," Zuccarello said. "They've been on the road, they've been playing every other day, so it will be nice to get on the road, fly with the boys and be around the team."
Zuccarello is expected to practice with the team during the trip, and the Stars will monitor his progress as to determine when he'll be ready to return to the lineup.
"Just have to take it one day at a time," Zuccarello said. "Still hurts a little bit and it's early, like I said, so just take it one day at a time and see how it feels in the next week or so."
Stars recall Dowling, Spezza and Ritchie skate late
Stars coach Jim Montgomery won't be available to the media until 5 p.m. Saturday, but there could be some lineup shuffling for tonight's game against Pittsburgh. The Stars recalled center Justin Dowling from the Texas Stars of the AHL and based on this morning's optional skate at American Airlines Center, Dowling could be in tonight.
Forwards Jason Spezza and Brett Ritchie skated late this morning, indicating that they could be scratches tonight against the Penguins and that Dowling could be on a line with Valeri Nichushkin and Joel L'Esperance based on Friday's practice.
Defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Julius Honka also skated late this morning, so they appear to be the scratches on defense.
Montgomery said Friday that Anton Khudobin would get the start in goal.
Tonight's game wraps up a five-game homestand for the Stars who are 1-2-1 in the first four games. The Stars (38-30-6-82 points) come into tonight's game in the first wild-card spot in the West, four points out of third place in the Central Division and four points ahead of the ninth-place spot in the West.
Video: Montgomery says Stars need to generate more chances
Opposition watch: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins (40-24-11) are coming off a 2-1 shootout win at Nashville on Thursday that pulled them to within percentage points of the New York Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division and pushed them four points ahead of Carolina for third in the division.
Thursday's win was the seventh in the last 11 games for Pittsburgh (7-2-2). Evgeni Malkin (upper body) is out for the Penguins.
Matt Murray was the first goaltender off the ice for the Penguins this morning, so he is the expected starter.
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Stars and Penguins. The Penguins won the first meeting, 5-1, in Pittsburgh on Nov. 21.
The Stars have won five straight games against Pittsburgh at American Airlines Center.
The Stars are 22-13-3 at home.
The Penguins are 19-11-8 on the road.
The Stars are 14-9-2-30 points since the All-Star break.
The Penguins are 14-8-5-33 points since the All-Star break.
Dallas is 14-14-2 vs. the Eastern Conference.
Pittsburgh is 17-10-1 vs. the Western Conference.
The Stars rank second in the league in goals against (2.46).
The Penguins rank sixth in goals for (3.35).
The Stars rank fifth on the penalty kill (82.7 percent).
The Penguins rank fifth on the power play (24.9 percent).
Who: Pittsburgh Penguins at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest Plus
Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM/96.7-FM
Stars projected lineup
Mattias Janmark - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Jason Dickinson - Roope Hintz
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Valeri Nichushkin - Justin Dowling - Joel L'Esperance
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Julius Honka, Brett Ritchie, Jason Spezza
Injured: Mats Zuccarello (broken arm), Tyler Pitlick (wrist surgery), Martin Hanzal (back), Marc Methot (knee surgery), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches)
Penguins projected lineup
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jared McCann - Teddy Blueger - Phil Kessel
Dominik Simon - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist
Adam Johnson - Matt Cullen - Garrett Wilson
Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang
Jack Johnson - Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson - Erik Gudbranson
Scratched: Zach Trotman
Injured: Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Olli Maatta (upper body), Chad Ruhwedel (upper body), Zach Aston-Reese (lower 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.