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Friday Practice Notes

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Thursday night’s game against Pittsburgh kicked off a stretch of six games in ten days for the Stars, so it was an optional practice in Frisco on Friday.

Injured forward Valeri Nichushkin (hip) was among those taking part in the skate. Nichushkin has been out since undergoing hip surgery in November. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said it’s just a matter of when Nichushkin feels he is ready to return.

“It’s his timetable now, when he feels good enough,” Ruff said. “We thought we had him close a few days ago, but with the harder practices he was starting to feel sore. Kind of backed off a little bit. He’s skating really well. It’s just when it reaches that point when that point when he feels he is going to be good enough to play.”

Forward Travis Moen took part in Friday’s optional practice as well. Moen has missed the past 14 games with an upper-body injury.

“Moen is doing better,” Ruff said.

And the Dallas coach said that defenseman Trevor Daley, who has missed seven games with a lower body injury, continues “progressing.”

Tough to gain ground

The win over Pittsburgh Thursday night pushed the Stars to 6-2-0 over their past eight games, but making up points on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference has been tough. Despite picking up 12 of a possible 16 points, the Stars have gained just one point on the second wild-card spot and remain eight points out with 11 games to go.

While the Stars were winning Thursday night, Winnipeg rallied to beat St. Louis to keep hold of the final playoff spot and stay eight points up on Dallas. Calgary, another team the Stars are chasing, won as well and moved from outside of the playoffs into third place in the Pacific Division. Stars coach Lindy Ruff was asked Friday if it is frustrating when those other teams keep winning.

“No, because we can only control what we do,” Ruff said. “My frustration is some of those earlier home games that we didn’t win. The frustration in not putting the puck in the back of the net against Winnipeg in a game when we totally dominated. We’ve made other goalies the stars of the night. Those are my frustrations. You control what you are able to control. The rest you’ve got to sit around and hope for.”

Praising McKenzie

Stars rookie forward Curtis McKenzie was in the middle of things again Thursday night, getting into a scrap with Pittsburgh forward Kris Letang. On the last road trip, it was McKenzie who fought Dmitry Kulikov, the Florida defenseman who injured Stars center Tyler Seguin with a low hit.

McKenzie has played only 30 games this season, but he is second on the team with six fights. Only Antoine Roussel (nine) has more.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff had some good things to say Friday about the 24-year-old McKenzie’s play and his willingness to get involved in the rough stuff.

“I think he is growing as a player. It’s what you want to see from most players, whether it is their second stint or third stint; you want to see improvement,” Ruff said. “And a lot of times you’ll see a certain amount of confidence in their play. His confidence has grown. He has stuck his nose in a lot of places, and he’s really taken a leadership role with the young guys. He’s been in the fracas; it doesn’t matter who it is, whether it was Letang last night or Kulikov or the other team’s tough guy. He’s impressed me with this fearless play.”

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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