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Friday update: Nichushkin doing better; Faksa excited to be back

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Stars held an optional practice in Frisco Friday morning. Among the players taking part was forward Valeri Nichushkin, who left Thursday’s game against Nashville with a lower-body injury.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff, who listed Nichushkin as day to day right after the game, wouldn’t rule him out for Saturday’s game in New Jersey following Friday’s skate.

“He is better today,” Ruff said. “Hopefully, it was just minor, and he can be back for tomorrow. We’ll see when he gets off today.”

Today’s optional practice was no surprise. The Stars just played four games in six days. They'll play three games in four days on their upcoming road trip and then play a couple of divisional games late next week (Winnipeg, Minnesota) before getting a break in the schedule. But before that break, it will have been nine games in 15 days following the NHL’s holiday break for the league-leading Stars, who are on a 5-1-1 run.

“My biggest challenge right now is to keep this team fresh, excited to get on the ice. You want to keep the legs jumping,” Ruff said. “When we are playing this number of games, and you are having success, it is just trying to remind them shift in and shift out to do the little things right. When we do, we have a lot of success.”

The Stars hit the road Friday afternoon. They will play at New Jersey (Saturday), New York Islanders (Sunday) and New York Rangers (Tuesday). All three of those teams currently sit in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’ve said all along there is not an easy game out there. There’s not a team you can go into their building and think tonight is the night,” Ruff said. “We know each team has played well, and they’ve all had different runs at different times of the season. We are going to play those first two games in less than 24 hours, and that will be three games in less than four days. In the big picture, with the way the ice time was spread out last night, we are looking to keep utilizing four lines and have everybody involved.”

Faksa excited to be back

When Ales Hemsky went out with an injury, Radek Faksa knew there was a chance somebody would get called up to the NHL. He wasn’t sure it would be him, but after getting recalled on Wednesday, he is relishing his second crack at the NHL.

“It’s awesome to get called up,” said Faksa. “I am glad to be back.”

Faksa played well in his first call-up to the NHL. He got the call early in the season due to injuries in Dallas and played 14 games, registering one goal and one assist while averaging 12:05 of ice time. He won 61 of 120 faceoffs (50.8 percent) and logged time on the penalty kill.

“I thought his play just continued to get better and better as his time here went along. He defended very well,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I liked his size physically. I liked his penalty killing. The defensive side, he did some real good things for us.”

And the experience was a good one for Faksa, Dallas’ first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft.

“It was so much experience,” Faksa said. “Just to be around the people like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and these guys. Just watching them and what they are doing. They will give you some advice, hints on the faceoffs. It helped me a lot. It was great experience. It was probably the best month of my life.”

And it was a shot of confidence as well.

“When you are confident you will do more on the ice,” Faksa said. “Hockey is about mentality and you have to be strong, so it helped be a lot in that month.”

Faksa went back to Texas and has played well. He has 13 points (nine goals, four assists) in 19 games this season.

“I am trying to be around the net, pick up the rebounds because I’ve got the big body,” Faksa said. “I am not playing on the power play, so I am trying to take advantage of the penalty kill and five-on-five. That’s my job there in Texas.”

Faksa sat out Thursday’s game with Dallas as a healthy scratch, but Ruff said he’d like to get Faksa in during the upcoming road trip with the Stars playing three games in four days.

“I’d like to [get him in],” Ruff said. “It would be easy to put one of our centers to the wing; I can play him on the wing. We’ve had lots of guys we have been able to juggle around.”

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“I hope consistency. I think we have done a good job so far to have consistency on this team. We have to train ourselves to play well and trust our system. All you can do is try to get yourselves in the playoffs and have a system you believe in and see where it takes you.”

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 DallasStars.com 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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