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What to watch for as Stars meet 'Yotes to complete home-and-home

A third straight Dallas victory tonight would be its first on the road this season

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dallas Stars will be looking to move above .500 for the first time this season as they pursue a home-and-home sweep of the winless Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night in Arizona. The Stars (3-3-0) nipped the 'Yotes (0-5-1) by a 3-1 count on Tuesday night in Dallas.

Here's a look at what might unfold in the desert.

 

1. Couldn't have drawn up a better plan

We mentioned this before Tuesday's game, when the Stars were 2-3-0, and it holds true for Thursday's game: No one -- especially this Dallas Stars team -- should be taking any NHL team lightly, even a team struggling as mightily as the Coyotes, who rank dead last in the NHL in goals allowed per game. 

Had the Stars had their way with the 'Yotes on Tuesday, it might have been a bigger challenge, perhaps, to keep the team's focus with the return match. But the bottom line is that the Stars didn't play particularly well outside of Ben Bishop, and this should sharpen the focus for Thursday's game. Emphasis on the should. 

A couple of important factors at play, not the least of which, would be the Stars' first road win of the season, having dropped contests in St. Louis and Nashville. Then, Dallas returns home for a Saturday date with Carolina before hitting the road on Monday for an 11-day jaunt through Colorado and Western Canada. So, if you were thinking about getting a good road base, Arizona would be a good place to start. 

Head coach Ken Hitchcock has said he liked the team's previous road contests in spite of the outcome, and apart from a five-minute letdown in St. Louis, and about a seven-minute trip sideways in Nashville, he's probably right. 

Defenseman Marc Methot said it's a bit early to be worried about road records.

"But I think what we have been addressing is that we want to start playing some good hockey here before we get on that northern trip," he said Thursday. "We know how difficult it can be, and I think having momentum and playing the proper way is going to be huge for us going into those games. So, I think, right now, winning games, no matter who you're playing against, no matter where we are at home or on the road -- we need to gain some momentum here and feel good about ourselves."

Video: Pregame: DAL at ARI

 

2. The kid returns

The Coyotes, who are still without starting netminder Antti Raanta because of injury -- and have not liked the work of backup Louis Domingue, who has an .862 save percentage -- will turn once again to 6-foot-6 rookie Adin Hill following his first-ever NHL start Tuesday in Dallas. 

The 21-year-old was excellent stopping 31 of 33 shots, but the Stars, to a man, felt they played poorly outside of Bishop, so the challenge will be for them to make life more difficult for Hill in his second start. 

Bishop, by the way, will get the start again -- his fifth straight turn between the pipes.

 

3. 'Big Rig' is back

As promised, big defender Jamie Oleksiak will return to the Stars lineup. He sat out the last two games, a victim of the numbers crunch on the Dallas blue line. Julius Honka will come out and Oleksiak will return to a normal pairing with Marc Methot, while John Klingberg -- who has had an impressive start to the season and is tied for the team lead in points with five -- will pair up with Esa Lindell. 

Dan Hamhuis, coming off a goal and an assist performance on Tuesday, will skate with Stephen Johns, perhaps the most improved of the Dallas defenders. 

"The team's been playing well, so it's just a matter of kind of step back in and play a responsible game," Oleksiak said Thursday morning. "Just kind of keep momentum going. It's another game and another opportunity and we've been playing just got to keep it going." 

Just as Honka will be tasked with learning while not playing, that's something Oleksiak was trying to accomplish the last couple of games. 

"Whether or not you're in the next game, I think every game you try and take something in and study the game a little bit and come away a little more knowledge, a little more prepared and whatnot," he said.

 

4. More right-wing juice

Look for some more tinkering along the right side as Hitchcock is looking for a little more jump from his wingers. 

He said he will leave the top line of Tyler Seguin, flanked by Jamie Benn on the left and Alexander Radulov on the right, intact. But he may rotate the other right wingers: Brett Ritchie, Tyler Pitlick and Devin Shore. 

"We might make some changes there," Hitchcock said. "We'll see what matchup looks like after the first rotation, but we might have some movements where we switch a couple of right wingers."

"I think we've got to get a different energy from that spot, so we'll see if we can help them along," he added.

Video: Stars ready for round 2 with Arizona

 

5. PK-ing behind the curtain

The Stars' biggest turnaround at this early juncture has been the play of the penalty-killing units, which have got the team currently ranked fifth in the NHL in penalty-killing efficiency at 87 percent. 

The secret? According to Hitchcock, it's the ability to look in the mirror and take a healthy dose of criticism.

"The best way to describe it is this: When you kill penalties, you need to embrace criticism, because the coach is not showing everything that's gone right," Hitchcock said. "He shows things that have gone wrong, and your attitude towards seeing the criticism usually dictates how good you're going to be on penalty killing. And this group has embraced criticism." 

The Stars killed off back-to-back minors in the third period in Tuesday's win, including a brief 5-on-3 situation to keep the Coyotes from tying a close game. 

"How you sell that, and how they buy it, will usually determine the level of commitment on your PK," Hitchcock added. "If they look at it like a negative situation all the time, then you're going to have a tough time with guys. But they've really embraced trying to get better from the mistakes that happen -- or the shots on goal, the scoring chances. They've been able to look in the mirror on that stuff, and that's a good sign."

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott Burnside on Twitter @OvertimeScottB and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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