Following training camp, seven preseason games and three days of practice this week, the Dallas Stars are ready to drop the puck on the 2016-17 season.
"We're chomping at the bit to get going," said center Jason Spezza.
The Stars open the season Thursday night, taking on the Anaheim Ducks at American Airlines Center. The Stars used a 3-0 opening night win over Pittsburgh at the AAC last season to propel them to a tremendous start to the 2015-16 campaign, which saw them win the Central Division and finish with the best record in the Western Conference at 109 points. A good start was one of several goals on last season's to-do list, which also included a strong record at home, a better record within the division and better defensive play.
"Now, we have a maintain list," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "There were some areas we wanted to improve, and we improved, and now it is maintain that. We'd still like to improve defensively and take a few more goals against off our record. If we can maintain that balance between our offense and our defense, that will be a good place to be."
The Stars are a little banged up at forward coming into the season. Center/left wing Mattias Janmark will be out until the spring after knee surgery and center Cody Eakin will be out until early November with a knee injury. Right wing Ales Hemsky will start the season on injured reserve with a groin injury.
But there is positive news. Center Tyler Seguin, who didn't play in the preseason after suffering a hairline fracture in his heel at the World Cup of Hockey, is ready to go.
"I felt good the last few days and got better every day in practice," Seguin said. "I feel good, and I am ready to go tomorrow."
Stars captain Jamie Benn, who underwent offseason surgery for a core muscle injury, said he feels 100 percent.
"I sure do," Benn said. "I worked hard all summer to get to where I am, and hopefully it pays off tomorrow night."
And as the Stars open the season Thursday, expectations are high following the steps forward made last season, including winning a playoff round for the first time since 2008.
"We've got a fresh year here and a fresh start," Benn said. "Even though we did some good things last year, it's a whole new season. I am excited about the roster. We brought in some good players and some guys are going to have to play some bigger roles this year. We want to continue to have some good team success. I think we are pretty excited."
Ruff talks defense pairs
One of the interesting notes to come out of this week's practices has been the defense pairs. It was expected that Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg would be paired together, but it hasn't worked out that way this week. Jordie Benn has been on the left side with Klingberg and Hamhuis has been with Patrik Nemeth, who has been skating on the right side. Johnny Oduya and Stephen Johns have been the other pair.
The Stars have two right-handed shooting defensemen in Klingberg and Johns, and all the other defensemen are left-handed shots, and that is one thing Ruff is looking at he puts together his pairs.
"We are trying to balance all the pairs right now," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We've gone through the preseason and have seen what all the pairs have done, and with our two righties (Klingberg and Johns), Nemeth has been pretty comfortable on the right side. I think there is an opportunity to try defensemen in different places, but the thinking right now is to try to play a balanced pair. Pairs that are playing better will probably play a little bit more inside the game. We're in a read, wait and see what happens.
"I think Jordie has had a real good camp, skated well, defended well and so right now we are going to start him on the left and Nemeth on the right. That could change. That could be a period or two, that could be games, but we know that we have some options."
Injury Update: Hemsky skating
*Stars forward Ales Hemsky (groin) skated Wednesday and could skate with the team Thursday. Hemsky still has a way to go to be ready. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he'll need to get in some good practices before being a player.
*Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (muscle/lower body) did not practice Wednesday but could skate with the team Thursday. Ruff said the injury is not serious.
Wednesday practice lineup
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves
Patrick Sharp - Jason Spezza - Jiri Hudler
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Brett Ritchie
Lauri Korpikoski /Curtis McKenzie - Devin Shore - Adam Cracknell
Jordie Benn - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns
Dan Hamhuis - Patrik Nemeth
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.