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Friday Practice Notes

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars closed out 2014 on a roll, and the goal is to keep it going now that the calendar has flipped over to 2015.

The Stars have won three straight games. They are 7-1-0 in their past eight contests and 8-2-0 in their past ten. Only Calgary has won more games in a row (four) in the West, and nobody in the conference has better record over the past ten games.

“I think we’ve been going pretty good here of late and we just want to carry it into a new month and a new year,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “We’re still a little bit behind the eight ball here and we need to catch up points wise, so we need to get off to a good start tomorrow night.”

The Stars recent run has allowed them to gain ground in the playoff race. They were 11 points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference three weeks ago but are six points back after Thursday night’s games.

But there is still work to do. They face a key stretch heading up to the All-Star break. They play ten games, six of them against Central Division foes. The Stars haven’t fared well against the Central this season, winning just one of 11 games (1-7-3).

“They (division games) are huge,” said Benn. “They’re almost like four-point games and we need to turn that around because it could mean so much climbing up the standings. We haven’t been doing that great of a job against our own division yet.”

But they did win the last game against the division, defeating the Blues, 4-3, in St. Louis on Dec. 27 and that started the Stars on their current three-game winning streak.

“We had a slow start against the division, but that win against St. Louis was huge,” said forward Colton Sceviour. “We’ve been playing some good hockey and have gotten ourselves back into the mix a little bit more. Unless we can beat those teams in our division, it is tough to jump over them. These are huge games and it’s a good time for us to be rolling going into a stretch like that.”

Here come the Wild

The Stars face Central Division foe Minnesota Saturday night at American Airlines Center. The Stars are 0-2-1 against the Wild this season. Minnesota has been struggling as of late, winning just once in its last seven games (1-3-3).

“Probably a team that has been inconsistent now,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of the Wild. “They probably look like us when we were going through our (rough) stretch where now it’s finding ways to lose instead of finding ways to win. A little bit of up-and-down hockey for them. We’ve dominated parts of games (against them), dominated the game in our building we lost. We got to make sure that we take care of our own end first, and when we get the opportunities, we put it in the back of the net.”

Lindy Ruff on Brett Ritchie

Here’s what Stars coach Lindy Ruff had to say Friday about forward Brett Ritchie, who scored a goal in his NHL debut in Wednesday’s 6-0 rout of Phoenix.

“I thought he played real well,” Ruff said. “Again, did the right things, got himself in a good area to score the goal and had a breakaway. He put in good minutes. I thought he made us a stronger four-line team.”

Asked where he sees Ritchie moving ahead, Ruff indicated he likes Ritchie where he was the last game – on a line with Vernon Fiddler and Travis Moen.

“From a coaching standpoint, you get pretty excited when the new guy comes up and does well, and sometimes you hand over too much too soon,” Ruff said. “For me, I like where he’s at right there. That’s the place that I’m going to keep him for now. I know what his assets are. He’s got a tremendous shot, but at the same time he’s got to earn his way through the lineup and those other guys that are ahead of him are doing a good job right now.”

Practice notes: Horcoff sits out, day-to-day

Stars forward Shawn Horcoff, who missed Wednesday’s game due to illness, did not practice Friday.

“He is just ill,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “He is day to day.”

The forward lines and defense pairs in Friday’s practice were the same as those used in Wednesday’s game against Phoenix. Here was how the Stars lined up in practice Friday:

Jamie BennTyler SeguinColton Sceviour
Erik ColeJason SpezzaAles Hemsky
Antoine RousselCody EakinRyan Garbutt
Travis MoenVernon FiddlerBrett Ritchie/Travis Morin

Alex GoligoskiJohn Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak/Jyrki JokipakkaTrevor Daley
Jordie BennJason Demers

Kari Lehtonen
Anders Lindback

This story was not subject to the 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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