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Focus on the Division

Stars will see a lot of Central Division teams early, so points will be at a premium

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Up next for the Dallas Stars are the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night in Denver. Not only is it the first road game of the season for the Stars, but it will be their first game within the Central Division. And they will see a lot of their divisional opponents early in the season.

Nine of the Stars' next 12 games will be played against divisional foes, and those are important points up for grabs.

"It's like they are worth three points rather than two because historically our division is so tight," said Stars forward Patrick Eaves, "so we have to focus on having a good winning percentage within our division."

A good record inside the Central Division was a major focus for the Stars last season, and it paid off. The Stars posted a 19-7-3 record against the Central, good for 41 of their 109 points on the season. Central teams were 10-13-6 against the Stars for 28 points, so the Stars gained 15 more points than they gave away against the division.

Compare that to 2014-15 when the Stars missed the playoffs. The Stars were 8-14-7 within the division, picking up 23 of a possible 58 points. Central Division foes posted a 21-7-1 record against the Stars and racked up 43 points. The Stars gave up 20 more points than they gained within the Central, where they finished in sixth place.

"The year before (2014-15) we played some good hockey, but our divisional record is what kept us out of the playoffs," Eaves said. "[The divisional record] is going to be a main focus of ours and it is going to start [Saturday] night."

The Stars will see a lot of the division over the first quarter of the season. Twelve of the first 21 games are against Central Division team.

"Those games inside our division are important games for us to win," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "It's going to be a huge opportunity for us to get going in the right direction."

Avalanche Watch

The Avs are one of three NHL teams that haven't played a game yet, so Saturday's game will be their season and home opener. Colorado, which has given the Stars some problems the past few seasons, went 6-0-0 in the preseason under new head coach Jared Bednar.

"They are a team that played extremely well through the preseason. Tremendous speed and some real good skill up front combined with guys on the backend that can get up, too," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "They've added some players that I think add to the depth of the speed on the team. [Nathan] MacKinnon had a heck of a World Cup. We've got to recognize situations and not give up big plays off the rush like we did [Thursday] night."

Ruff on depth scoring

Depth scoring was key in Thursday's 4-2 win over Anaheim Thursday night. The Stars received two goals from the third line (Antoine Roussel and Adam Cracknell), one from the fourth line (Lauri Korpikoski) and another goal from a defenseman (Stephen Johns) in their season opener. Stars coach Lindy Ruff talked Friday about the importance of getting production throughout the lineup.

"It's really important because you go on the road and you don't always get the matchups you want. You need that secondary scoring," Ruff said. "Your big guys are going to get their chances, but it is important if your third line can get on the board or your fourth line can get a goal. Last night we got three goals and a goal from a defenseman. That makes it tough on the opposition because all of a sudden different people are getting around the net."

Practice Notes

*Johnny Oduya did not practice Friday. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said it was a maintenance day for Oduya.

*Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (muscle strain) practiced Friday and has been cleared to play.

*Right wing Ales Hemsky (groin) practiced Friday but is still not ready to return.

*Ruff said he is not sure if he will make any lineup changes for Saturday's game at Colorado.

"That's something we are going to talk about," Ruff said. "We'll see. That's something we'll talk about later today."

Friday's practice lineup

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves
Patrick Sharp - Jason Spezza - Jiri Hudler /Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Adam Cracknell
Lauri Korpikoski/Curtis McKenzie - Devin Shore - Brett Ritchie

Patrik Nemeth - John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak/Esa Lindell - Stephen Johns
Dan Hamhuis - Jordie Benn

Antti Niemi
Kari Lehtonen

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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