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Stars preaching focus ahead of meeting with Penguins

Pittsburgh enters averaging four goals a game against a Dallas team that has struggled offensively to open the season

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
Stars (1-6-1) at Penguins (5-2-0)

6 p.m., PPG Paints Arena

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

 

PITTSBURGH -- As much as the Stars are struggling offensively, the focus tonight will be better defensive play.

Dallas is facing the second-best scoring team in the league right now in the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are averaging four goals a game and are 5-2-0, so coach Jim Montgomery wants his players to be focused.

"We've got to be really good at checking and we've got to do a really good job managing the puck," Montgomery said. "They're relentless on their reload, so we've got to make sure we're moving our feet and moving pucks north, or they'll trap you from behind."

The Stars on Wednesday felt the pressure of being the lowest scoring team in the NHL (currently 1.88 goals per game) and tried to open things up a little too much at Columbus. The result was getting 32 shots on goal and 56 shot attempts, but it also opened the door for the Blue Jackets, who got Dallas scrambling around. The scrambles created missed defensive assignments that led to goals for Columbus, which won 3-2.

Video: Seguin on how Stars may right the ship in Pittsburgh

Stars defenseman John Klingberg was on the ice for two of the three goals against and now is minus-6 on the season. He said he has to play a smarter game that is based on defense first, despite the fact he has just one assist in the first eight games.

"I think less is more right now," Klingberg said. "The offense isn't there right now, but I can't change my own game and try to produce. That's something I learned four or five times before in my career. If I do that, if I just try to score, it's going to be even more messed up. The offense isn't there right now, it's not there for the whole team, so I'm just going to have to try to get out of this with smart play and with the whole team doing it together."

And the plan is to do that while checking as a team -- together.

"It's a will," Montgomery said of the key to good checking. "It's a will to go through people, it's a will to have second and third effort."

 

What to watch

Facing Sidney Crosby is a nice challenge for Stars' centers.

They only play the Penguins twice a season, meaning games against Crosby are special. Currently, Crosby has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in seven games and leads the NHL in faceoff wins with 99.

He also is carrying a team that is missing five of its top forwards to injuries and still has won four in a row.

Video: Stars looking to reverse road fortunes in Pittsburgh

"You want to go head-to-head. I take a lot of pride in it, and obviously he's one of the best one or two in the world, so I look forward to the challenge," said Stars forward Tyler Seguin, who has 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 23 games against Pittsburgh.

Both he and Radek Faksa will likely get time out against Crosby, as Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan gets the match-ups at home. Faksa said he too enjoys playing against Crosby, who has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 16 career games against Dallas.

"He was my idol growing up, so it's kind of weird playing against him," Faksa said. "It's hard to play against him, but it's fun. I want to play against players like that. His puck possession is unreal, he's good on faceoffs, he always has good ideas, so you have to always be aware of him. He's one of the best players in the league."

 

Dowling returns to lineup; Gardner scratched

Jim Montgomery is pulling Justin Dowling back into the lineup and scratching Rhett Gardner, and he's shuffling the starting lineup from the start of the Columbus game.

Jason Dickinson jumps up with Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, while Jamie Benn slides down to play with Roope Hintz and Corey Perry, and Mattias Janmark slides down into Dickinson's spot with Radek Faksa and Joe Pavelski.

These lines changed in the Columbus game and also will probably change tonight. That's just how the Stars are right now.

 

[GAME DAY GUIDE: Everything you need to know for Stars-Penguins]

 

Maybe more notable is the change in goalie. Anton Khudobin played in 41 games last season, which was a product of Ben Bishop's injuries. Khudobin will play his third game of the season tonight. He is 0-2-0 with a 3.59 GAA and an .877 save percentage. He was 16-17-5 last season with a 2.57 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Bishop, who is expected to start Saturday at Philadelphia was 27-15-2 last season with a 1.98 GAA and .934 save percentage last season. He is 1-4-1 this year with a 2.83 and .899. Montgomery said he believes the goalies are suffering because of the team's play.

"I think it's reflective of the team," Montgomery said. "Our goaltending numbers were really good last year when we were a really good checking team and they were excellent. And they are excellent goaltenders. We're not that good in our own end, we're not that good at checking right now, and they're facing not only one shot but second shot attempts, and that's why their numbers aren't that good."

 

By the numbers

 

.889

That's the team save percentage for Stars goalies. It ranks 24th in the NHL. Dallas last season ranked second at .923.

 

Plus-1.43

That's the goal differential for Pittsburgh, second best in the NHL. Dallas is minus-1.25, fourth worst in the league.

 

99

That's the amount of faceoff wins for Sidney Crosby, most in the NHL. He has won 59.3 percent of his faceoffs this year. Radek Faksa leads the Stars in faceoff wins at 67 and leads the Stars at 55.4 percent.

 

He said it

"We've talked out a lot of stuff, hashed out a lot. Yesterday's day off was a day off from the rink, but we had some meetings and we had some get-togethers, lunches and dinners, and just sorted through things. You've got to sit back and realize that these eight-game, 10-game stretches, they happen throughout the year, and our's just happened in our first eight, so we'd like to change things around."

-- Seguin on how the team is dealing with its 1-6-1 start.

 

Stars projected lineup

Jason Dickinson - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov

Jamie Benn - Roope Hintz - Corey Perry

Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Joe Pavelski

Andrew Cogliano - Justin Dowling - Denis Gurianov

Esa Lindell - Miro Heiskanen

Andrej Sekera - John Klingberg

Jamie Oleksiak - Taylor Fedun

Anton Khudobin

Ben Bishop

Scratched: C Rhett Gardner, D Joel Hanley.

Injuries: LW Blake Comeau (lower body), D Roman Polak (sternum), D Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches), C Martin Hanzal (back).

 

Penguins projected lineup

Dominik Kahun - Jared McCann - Patric Hornqvist

Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev

Adam Johnson - Joseph Blandisi - Sam Lafferty

Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson - Justin Schultz

Jack Johnson - John Marino

Matt Murray

Tristan Jarry

Scratched: Chad Ruhwedel, Erik Gudbranson, Juuso Riikola

Injuries: Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Nick Bjugstad (lower body), Bryan Rust (upper body), Alex Galchenyuk (lower body), Zach Trotman (sports hernia surgery)

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.

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