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Stars Seek Success on Western Road Swing

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars have just two road games under their belt, a 5-2 loss at Chicago on Oct. 8 and a 3-2 win at Columbus on Tuesday night. But later this week, Glen Gulutzan’s club will embark on their first extended road trip of the season, traveling to Anaheim and Los Angeles before finishing up this three-game, western trek next Tuesday evening in Phoenix.

Of course, all three games loom large not only for what they might be able to tell the Stars coaching staff and fans about where this team is currently at in a number of areas, but these three contests will also be vital because the entire swing is against fellow members of the NHL Western Conference’s Pacific Division.

Technically, this is a four-game road trip, one that started off in positive fashion with Tuesday’s win over the Blue Jackets in the Ohio state capital. But since the Stars returned home, held an optional skate on Wednesday and will practice in Frisco again on Thursday before boarding a plane to head west, if we’re dwelling on semantics, this is basically a three-game road trip since they did return home for several days.

Having Wednesday be an optional day for his players is all part of how the Stars new head coach approaches everything.

“We have to maximize our rest days too,” Gulutzan said. “Tomorrow [Thursday] we’ll get right back at it and ramp it up for the weekend. That’s kind of how we want to look at it. We think rest is as important as practice and when we practice, we practice hard and when we have days off, we have days off.”

Through six games, the Stars (5-1-0, 10 points) currently sit atop the standings in the Pacific Division, two markers ahead of Anaheim (4-1-0, 8 points) and three in front of Los Angeles (3-1-1, 7 points). While it is very early in the season, it’s never too early to score some points at the expense of some division rivals, especially on the road.

“I think this is going to be a real good test for us. Anaheim’s a pretty healthy group. Maybe LA without [Drew] Doughty isn’t as healthy as they’d like to be but two pretty full squads there of teams that we’re competing with,” Gulutzan said. “It’s good to see where we stack up going on the road and playing those two teams.”

But the Stars head coach isn’t the only one who is eagerly looking forward to these games. His players are as well.

“Those are always tough games, especially going into those buildings,” Dallas defenseman Nicklas Grossman said. “It’s going to be a tough road trip. We won some games but haven’t been playing the way we want for all 60 minutes. We know that it’s going to be tough and we’ve got to prepare. I think it’s going to be a big road trip for us too, first games against those teams. We play them a lot, so it’s going to set the tone for the season. You always want to start off good, right? It’s an important trip for us.”

Fellow blue liner Alex Goligoski concurs with his teammate.

“It’ll be good. These are big division games and teams we’re going to see a lot. It’s good we got off to a good start,” Goligoski said. “These road trips are where you see what your team is made of. It’ll be a good test for us.”

Dallas has already seen the Coyotes so far this year, beating them 3-2 in a shootout last Monday at the American Airlines Center. However, they have yet to face either the Ducks or the Kings, two teams who have a reputation in the West as well as across the NHL for having a good deal of size on their roster.

“When you look at LA and Anaheim, their top lines are big, skilled guys. I don’t think we’ve seen too much of that,” Goligoski said. “It’ll be a little different challenge for us but we’re going to be seeing these teams a lot so we’ve got to get used to playing against them.”

But it’s clearly a challenge this entire group welcomes and is completely prepared for.

“I think you’re going to see our bigger guys have to come to play,” Gulutzan said. “Our checkers are going to have to check and skate and our big guys are going to have to play against their big men too. I think it’ll be an interesting weekend for us.”

One player who especially likes seeing opposing players with size like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Ducks or Anze Kopitar of the Kings is Grossman, who is 6-foot-4 himself and can match up well with pretty much anyone in the league.

“Yeah, I don’t mind it at all. I like it,” Grossman said. “Those are always tough games against those guys. They [Anaheim] have got that Getzlaf line and they’re all big guys. LA is that way too. I’m looking forward to it. It’s always fun to go and play there. Like I said, it’s a real important trip for us.”

And winning on Tuesday night in Columbus has already started off this four-game road swing in very positive fashion, a factor that at least one Stars player feels can’t be discounted.

“It’s huge,” Goligoski said. “When you’re away from home for a while, you definitely want to start out on the right foot. If you start out with a couple of bad games, it seems like things can spiral out of control. It’s good to get the first one for sure, get back home here, kind of reset and go out there and win a few more.”

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