When the Dallas Stars showed up to practice Wednesday morning, their lead in the Central Division was down to two points over the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks have gained 11 points on the Stars since Dec. 27, going 8-0-0 (16) points while the Stars have gone 2-4-1 (5 points).
Stars coach Lindy Ruff was asked Wednesday if the push by the Blackhawks would give a sense of urgency to his team as it gets ready to get back to playing after some time off.
“I think we all understand that the Central Division has some good teams,” Ruff said. “You don’t win all those Cups, in Chicago’s case, and don’t expect them not to be closing the gap. They are a team that will have to be dealt with.
“For us, we’ve struggled a little bit of late, and we’ve got to get our game moving. We can only worry about how we play. The teams around us, the only thing we can do is when we play them is make sure we do our part. Right now, we’ve got to go out and win a road game.”
The Stars practiced this morning in Frisco and then headed to California, where they will practice tomorrow and then open a three-game road trip in Anaheim Friday. They also play at San Jose (Saturday) and Los Angeles (Tuesday).
After playing nine games in 15 days, the Stars will have had a five-day break between games when they play the Ducks. There were two days off and three days of practice.
“When you play that number of games in that many days, you wouldn’t want that long a break but when you get three days, four days that’s a good break,” Ruff said. “Sometimes you go beyond that there tends to be a little rust. We’ve got to be up and running, and we’ve got to be ready to play.
“I think our energy will be good. First and foremost, our focus is playing well away from the puck. Getting back to the road game that we can be successful with. The last couple of road games, giving up the number of goals we did, we won’t win enough games.”
Stars defenseman John Klingberg did not practice on Wednesday. It was a maintenance day for Klingberg, who has been getting a lot of physical attention from the opposition recently.
“Just gave him an extra day,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s been feeling a little bit tired, a little bit run down. He’s been physically taking a lot, so just decided to give him an extra day.”
Jordie Benn, who has missed the past two games with a lower-body injury, went through a second full practice and is ready to return to the lineup.
“Feeling good. It’s good to get back on the ice and skate with the fellas,” Benn said. “I just needed that couple days just to do a little rehab and get some rest and back to normal.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said that Benn had been playing through the injury before the Stars decided to shut him down for a couple of games.
“I played a couple of weeks with it. It was just something I was fighting through for a while,” Benn said. “It was one of those things where we’ve got two fresh d-men who can step in and do the job and Lindy and I thought it was time that I take a little break.”
Benn is expected to be back in his usual spot on the third defensive pair when the Stars take on the Ducks Friday night in Anaheim.
“He’s been a pretty consistent player for us,” Ruff said. “He’s been moving the puck well; he moves his feet well. He’s been our best off-side guy playing the right side.”
Right wing Ales Hemsky, who has missed the past six games with a lower-body injury, went through a second full practice on Wednesday. He is expected to be ready to play Friday as well.
The Stars practiced for about one hour Wednesday before heading to California for their three-game road trip. The forward lines were the same as Tuesday’s session.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Valeri Nichushkin
Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Patrick Eaves/Colton Sceviour
With John Klingberg not skating, the defense pairs were mixed with Alex Goligoski, Johnny Oduya, Jason Demers, Jordie Benn, Jyrki Jokipakka, Jamie Oleksiak and 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.