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Stars Seek Rebound Effect in Three-Game Homestand

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

After tough losses at Boston and Philadelphia, the Pacific Division-leading Dallas Stars (30-18-5, 65 points) are glad to return home to the American Airlines Center, where they are 16-7-4 this season.

Marc Crawford’s club begins a three-game homestand against Phoenix on Wednesday and two days later, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks visit the AAC. A Sunday afternoon tilt against Columbus is their final contest at home before heading out for another three-game swing through Western Canada next week.

“Well, we’ve got to play well. We’ve come through the break with three tough outings. But you’ve got to move forward,” Crawford said after practice on Monday. “We were better in Philadelphia and we just have to keep working to be better. That’s what professional hockey is- you’ve got to find a way to make yourself competitive on a nightly basis. You’ve got to get points and for us, that’s our challenge.”

Coupled with a 4-1 loss to Vancouver last Tuesday night, the Stars are now on a three-game losing streak to start the second half of the season. Despite a slow start to the stretch run, Crawford sees many positives from his team’s two most recent defeats.

“Our guys have buckled down and recognize that we can play well in our end. That’s probably the best and correct place for us to build from,” the Dallas head coach said. “We have the puck more readily and we’re able to get the puck on offense. It really is the simplicity of our game that we’re focusing on right now. It’s good defense. It’s making sure we put the pucks in the right spot. Our puck placement has to be real good and we’ve got to have good habits so we don’t put ourselves in a vulnerable position.”

Crawford’s players also see several positives from these setbacks that they can carry forward into this week.

“Just the way we battled,” Stars winger James Neal said. “We stuck together, played well as a team. A couple of bounces here and there and we’re right back in the game. It just shows you down 4-0, you can come back. You’re always right there no matter what the score is. Just the way we battled together and played for each other. It was a tough couple of games but those are the positives you’ve got to take from it.”

Tenacious Dallas center Steve Ott also sees several silver linings in the losses to the Bruins and Flyers.

“The work ethic that we had [was huge],” Ott said. “We didn’t quit on anything. Even though we were down a couple of players, we gave it our all and gave it our best shot at the end. You’ve seen the team compete extremely hard. We didn’t win the games but our compete level was there. You play like that most nights and you’re going to win.”

In the Coyotes, Dallas will face a team they are 1-2-0 against this year. The Stars beat Dave Tippett’s team 6-3 back on November 5, 2010 in Big D but fell to the same club 1-0 on December 11. With 61 points, Phoenix is just four markers behind the Stars in what has become a very close table in the Pacific Division.

But Ott isn’t too worried about what the Ducks, Sharks, Coyotes and Kings are doing and how the division standings are shaking out.

“I tend to not focus on any other teams in the league. If you continue to take care of your own aspect on the ice and your own points, by the end of it all, you’ll set yourself up pretty solid,” the Dallas center said.

Neal, however, draws back to how well the Stars performed earlier in the year so they can weather any sort of losing streak later in the season.

“That’s why you put so much emphasis on the two points at the start of the year. It starts at the first game,” Neal said. “We put so much into those games to bank points for this stretch. We knew how important it was going to be and that it ends like this every year. It’s going to be a tough run here and it should be. We’ve got to do our thing and get back into winning some games here at home.”

After hosting the Coyotes, Chicago then pays their first visit to the AAC of the season two nights later. The Stars have split their two contests against the Blackhawks at the United Center so far this year. Dallas lost 5-3 on December 8, 2010 but rebounded for a 4-2 win in the Windy City on January 5.

Friday’s contest figures to have several interesting storylines. One, it will be the first game for Stars winger Adam Burish to face his former team in Dallas. But the big question is whether or not ex-Dallas netminder Marty Turco will get his first start against his former club. Turco has struggled this year, with an 11-11-2 record and a goals-against-average of 3.10, which is almost a full goal higher than starter Corey Crawford, who got the nod in the firs two games against the Stars.

Sunday’s visit by the Bluejackets will also mark their first venture to Big D this season. Dallas is 1-0-1 against Columbus this year, losing 3-2 in a shootout back on December 6 in the Ohio state capital. But just 12 days later, the Stars rebounded on the same pond for a 2-1 win thanks to a pair of goals by Brad Richards and a 35-save performance by Kari Lehtonen.

But no doubt about it, after a pair of tough losses on the road, there’s no better medicine for any team on a three-game losing streak than returning home.

“Yeah, it’s going to be nice to settle ourselves down, to calm us down. We want to right the ship and we’ve been pretty solid at home this year,” Ott said. “So, if we can do it here, get some big points and some big wins back together at home, that would be perfect.”

Before Dallas headed out on the road last week, they already had their share of injuries. Centers Jamie Benn and Tom Wandell have been out since a 7-1 loss at Vancouver with shoulder injuries while fellow center Toby Petersen has been out since a win at St. Louis on Jan. 2 with a leg injury.

At least one of those centers should return this week.

“He [Wandell] is getting closer. We’re optimistic that he’ll be ready on Wednesday,” Crawford said.

But the Stars lost Burish and Krys Barch to eye injuries at Boston last Thursday and winger Ray Sawada also left the game with a separated shoulder and broken nose. All three missed the Flyers game on Saturday.

So, that means minor league call-ups like center Aaron Gagnon, who has been up since last Monday, winger Francis Wathier, called up on Friday and Czech center Tomas Vincour, called up on Sunday and could make his NHL debut on Wednesday, will have to do their part.

“The guys that we’ve brought up from Austin have to service our club to the best of their ability and make sure that they’re playing strong, simple hockey. We’re not asking them to quarterback our power play or run our penalty kill,” Crawford said. “We’re asking them to come in and be serviceable players that work hard and add to the enthusiasm and energy that we’ll have in the building on Wednesday.”

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