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Friday update: Demers suspended two games; McKenzie talks injury

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The NHL suspended Stars defenseman Jason Demers two games for elbowing Penguins forward Nick Bonino in Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh.

The play happened late in the third period when Bonino when to check Demers, who threw a counter-hit and caught Bonino in the head. Demers was assessed a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct.

“Many elbowing infractions are sufficiently penalized by a minor or major penalty called on the ice. What elevates this infraction to merit supplemental discipline is the reckless nature in which it was executed and the force with which it was delivered,” the NHL Department of Player Safety said in a video explaining the suspension. “Demers clearly looks over his right shoulder and sees Bonino coming. With time to perform any number of evasive or protective maneuvers, Demers takes his bottom hand off his stick and throws an elbow in a way that cannot be considered reflexive or defensive. While we accept Demers assertion that he did not mean to strike Bonino in this manner, his attempt at a counter-hit is badly mistimed, leading to a reckless and forceful elbow to the face of Bonino.”

Demers offered his take on the play after Thursday’s game.

“I just went in the corner, and I went back to counter-hit and I just mistimed it,” Demers said. “I hope he is all right. I wasn’t intending to hit him in the head or anything like that.”

Bonino left the game and did not return, but he did practice on Friday. Penguins coach Mike Johnston said he was still waiting to hear if Bonino would be able to play Saturday.

Demers will miss Saturday’s game against Florida and Tuesday’s game against Anaheim. He will be eligible to return next Thursday vs. Vancouver. Under terms of the CBA, Demers will forfeit $36,559.14 in salary. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

With Demers sitting out the next two games, either Jamie Oleksiak or Patrik Nemeth will slide into the lineup. Both Oleksiak and Nemeth have been healthy scratches the first seven games.

Ruff talks start to season

The Dallas Stars are off to a strong start to the season, posting a 6-1-0 mark through the first seven games. They rank in the top five in several key categories including goals for, goals against, power play and penalty kill.

“We are off to a nice start. We are making headway in some of the areas we tried to work hard at through camp and practices,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “Our defending is in a good place. We know it is going to get tougher because when you are sitting where we are sitting, you are going to have every team looking to gun you down. I think that road is going to get harder for us, and we are going to have to get even better.”

Defending was a major focus heading into the season and the Stars were tied for fifth in goals against through Thursday at 2.14 per game. Ruff tipped his cap to the team’s leaders.

“You have to give the leadership of this team a lot of credit. They have really bought in and carried the message and delivered,” Ruff said. “When you have [Jason] Spezza blocking shots and [Tyler] Seguin blocking shots and coming back and getting in the right position, sticks on the ice and securing lanes in your own end, those guys deserve a lot of credit. Those are the guys you look to carry the message, and they deserve the credit for it.”

McKenzie feeling lucky with injury

Stars forward Curtis McKenzie is feeling lucky that he will miss only 2-3 weeks with a hip injury suffered last week in a game against Tampa Bay.

“I was preparing for a lot worse just sitting there with the pain,” McKenzie said. “When I got the call that there were no tears or no surgery required, it was one of the happier moments in my life. I couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the day.”

McKenzie was injured when he was hit from behind by Tampa Bay defenseman Nikita Nesterov in the October 15 game. The hit sent McKenzie flying into the boards.

“From the moment I got hit, I couldn’t move my hip at all,” McKenzie said. “There was extreme pain in it. It was weird watching it because it could have been neck or back or head. It was weird that it was the hip.”

McKenzie went to the hospital in Tampa and then flew back to Dallas the next day. Then there were tests and a lot of waiting. And pain.

“I have never had any pain to that extreme in my life. That was causing a lot of concern,” he said. “There were a few different tests we had to run, and they came back in my favor.”

The league suspended Nesterov for two games.

“It was an unfortunate event,” McKenzie said. “I didn’t think it was a good hockey play at all. But that happens at times in games where stuff gets away from guys. I am lucky it is not too bad of an injury, but unfortunate that it happened.”

McKenzie is still on crutches, but he hopes to be off them soon.

“It is coming around,” he said, “so hopefully it won’t be too long now.”

Notes: Moen skates

*Forward Travis Moen, who has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury skated on Friday. Stars coach Lindy Ruff called it a “test trial.”

*Forward Patrick Eaves, who has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury, is still not skating.

“Eaves is having further treatment, so he’ll be out a period of time,” Ruff said. “I don’t see him skating for the next few days at least.”

*Several players did not skate Friday and worked out off the ice instead. That group included Tyler Seguin, Alex Goligoski, Johnny Oduya, Jason Demers, Ales Hemsky and Jordie Benn.

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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