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Stars look to get off on right foot within division

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars were looking at several areas of improvement heading into this season, and they get to face one head on when they play at Colorado Saturday night. It’s their first game within the Central Division and last season divisional play was not kind to the Stars.

“We had a hard time with Colorado; we had a hard time with Minnesota. Those are the games we have to win. Those are the teams we are going to be fighting with for playoff spots,” said Stars center Jason Spezza. “We know we have to be better in those games. It starts tomorrow for us, try to get a good road win.”

The Stars were 8-14-7 against divisional foes for a total of 23 points. Their six divisional opponents posted a 21-7-1 mark against the Stars for a total of 43 points. That was a minus-20 in points within the division, the first path to the playoffs since the top three teams in the division qualify for the postseason.

“If you are going to guarantee you are going to make the playoffs, you have to beat your own division,” Spezza said. “You can’t rely on other teams to beat your divisional opponents for you.”

Colorado was a major problem last season, winning all five games against the Stars including all three in Denver. The Stars lost both games in Dallas, both going beyond regulation.

“It’s another hurdle, another hurdle for us to get over,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We lost some tough games. We played some good hockey but lost some tough games to them. For us, that is the next challenge, playing against that team is finding a way to put a ‘W’ up on the board.”

And a win Saturday in Denver would get the Stars heading in the right direction within the Central Division.

“To beat a Colorado team we had a hard time with last year would be good,” said Spezza. “That we play them early givea us a chance to get off on the right foot.”

Spezza getting some PK time

Stars center Jason Spezza is a mainstay on the power play and picked up an assist on Jamie Benn’s power-play goal that extended the Stars’ lead to 3-0 in Thursday night’s game against Pittsburgh. But he’s going to see time on the penalty kill as well this season.

“It’s something I did in Ottawa,” Spezza said. “I didn’t do it last year, probably being new. They’ve talked to me about it, so I’ll probably get more of a chance this year. It’s something I like doing. I try to have a good stick and help out where I can.”

Spezza saw penalty kill time Thursday night as the Stars shut down the Penguins on their three power-playoff opportunities.

“We are down one penalty killer from the rotation we had last year without [Shawn] Horcoff in there,” Ruff said. “We are trying some other bodies, whether it is [Travis] Moen, [Patrick] Eaves or Spezza. We’re using Spezza because we like him on the faceoffs, and he’s got a good stick. He did a great job getting his stick in those lanes at the end of their first of second power play.”

Spezza said spending a lot of time on the power play can come in handy when it comes to penalty killing.

“I think it does. I try to be strong on the faceoffs. I am a half-wall guy on the power play, so I try to read where the half-wall guy is going and try to have a good stick,” he said. “Jeep (assistant coach James Patrick) has been good with me all through training camp, showing me video and going over stuff and relearning I guess since I didn’t kill last year. It’s good. It’s a challenge I want and accept and hope to be a part of it.”

Same lineup on Saturday?

Stars coach Lindy Ruff rolled out the same forward line combinations and defense pairings that he’s used the past three practices and in Thursday night’s 3-0 win over Pittsburgh. Does that mean we can expect to see the same lineup when the Stars take on the Avalanche Saturday night in Colorado?

“That’s something as a staff we’ll talk about. It’s hard [to change the lineup] because of the way the game unfolded, the compete we had,” Ruff said. “I think there are situations that will come along this year that no matter how good the game is that you might decide you want more size, or you might decide you want some fresh bodies in there.”

Friday’s practice lineup

Jamie BennCody EakinTyler Seguin

Valeri NichushkinJason SpezzaPatrick Sharp

Travis MoenVernon FiddlerPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselMattias JanmarkAles Hemsky/Colton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaJordie Benn

Patrik NemethJamie Oleksiak

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

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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