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What to watch for as Stars conclude lengthy trip at Jets

Dallas looks for its third straight victory tonight against Central Division foe Winnipeg

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

WINNIPEG -- The Dallas Stars look to complete their current five-game road trip with a third straight victory as they take on the surging Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.

Life doesn't get much easier for the 7-5-0 Stars, as they'll return home in the early-morning hours Friday and then host Buffalo on Saturday before facing the Jets again on Monday.

Here are some ramblings as the Stars prepare to close out an 11-day odyssey through Western Canada (and the Rockies).

 

1. Medical matters

Injuries are suddenly a factor for a Stars team that was already lean on experience to start with as veteran center Martin Hanzal will not play against the Jets as he tries to get right with a nagging lower-body injury, and winger Brett Ritchie has returned to Dallas with an upper-body injury. Ritchie is considered day-to-day.

The Stars had already called up Jason Dickinson from the American Hockey League, where he's off to a good start with six goals in nine games for the Texas Stars. We had speculated that, perhaps, Remi Elie would come out in favor of Dickinson, 22, but with Ritchie's injury, both Elie and Gemel Smith will remain in the lineup, adding youth and speed at the expense of experience.

"(Dickinson is) going to play left wing and some center today," head coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday. "And he'll play on the second unit power play, so he's going to get lots of exposure. Obviously, he's playing really well down there. He had a great training camp. So see if he keeps up the pace he had when he went down."

 

2. Dickinson 'excited' to be back

Hitchcock has repeatedly suggested that a handful of young players, including Remi Elie and Dickinson, deserved to make the big club out of training camp but didn't because of salary cap and roster-number issues. What we have found with Dickinson, in our dealings with him through camp, is that he isn't afraid to speak his mind. His teammates were giving him a hard time before he spoke to reporters Thursday morning about his recall, but Dickinson seems nonplussed by all of it

"I'm excited to be back," said Dickinson, who was selected 29th overall in 2013 by Dallas. "I feel like I've been playing pretty consistently lately, so it's going to be a big step for me to try to just carry it into the game tonight and keep going the way I've been playing down in Austin."

As for whether he deserved to be here from the beginning, that's hardly relevant -- at least as far as Dickinson is concerned.

"Sure, that could have been the case," he acknowledged "But if I'd really been good enough at camp, I could have pushed somebody out of a spot. I don't think it's really anything to look into, but I think now, I'm trying to give myself a chance, and I've got an opportunity here to try and take it."

Devin Shore has played quite a bit with Dickinson and thinks he's got plenty of attributes that should translate well to the NHL game.

"He's got great speed. He's a complete player," Shore said. "And he's got good instincts on both ends of the rink, so that combination of things is good in today's game, and it's exciting. We're happy to have him."

Video: Dickinson ready to face Jets in Winnipeg

 

3. Dreams of home

It's often a throw-away line when a team plays poorly near the end of a road trip: road weary.

But it's real -- especially when the trip reaches double-digits in days away.

That suggests it will take a committed effort from a Stars team that might already be thinking about catching up with wives, kids and significant others -- not to mention, sleeping in a familiar bed after this game.

"Yes, it is a long time to be away, but I think with the way things have been going -- and certainly with today's practice -- I think guys are feeling pretty good still," veteran defenseman Marc Methot said shortly before the team jetted to Winnipeg.

"I think we are anxious. You're always going to be anxious to get home when you're on the road that long, but it's a business and we've got to make sure we're focused -- and I think we will be."

Hitchcock said with the schedule -- that included a couple of practices in Kelowna before the team traveled to Winnipeg -- the issue of fatigue shouldn't be as pronounced.

 

4. Jets not buying

For what it's worth, the Jets don't seem to be too interested in trying to capitalize on a potentially road-weary Stars team.

Captain Blake Wheeler wasn't aware of the Stars recent road schedule until we asked him about it, and head coach Paul Maurice said he's not sure with days off in Kelowna, and only one set of back-to-back on this trip, that his team is any better rested.

The Jets are coming off four games in six days, including a back-to-back in Columbus and Pittsburgh, and then another game against the Penguins at home, before a road trip to Minnesota.

Not that the Jets have much to complain about, either, as they are 3-0-2 in their last five.

Given that the two teams will tangle again Monday, Hitchcock said this is an important "series" against a Central Division foe. The two teams enter Thursday's game with 14 points each.

Video: A counterattack from Winnipeg

 

5. Goalie duel -- but not that duel

Both the Stars and Jets made moves to shore up their goaltending in the offseason. And Thursday should be an interesting duel between two netminders playing at a high level.

It's just not the matchup we might have imagined as Ben Bishop will face Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets.

Bishop has been as advertised. He is 6-2-0 with a .920 save percentage and is coming off a nice performance in a 2-1 win in Vancouver on Monday. But when the Jets signed Steve Mason in the offseason, the idea was he would be the go-to guy for a Jets team looking to get back to the playoffs after missing all but once since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta in the summer of 2011.

But it's been Hellebuyck, who couldn't nail down the starting job last season, who has been red-hot, rolling to an early 6-0-1 record and a .940 save percentage. He leads all NHL netminders in quality starts thus far.

Maurice said it's not the spectacular saves he's making, but the ones that help quiet a game and a defensive corps.

"He's made good saves, but a big chunk of the saves that we like are the ones that you might not like if they go in," Maurice said. "His positioning is just right."

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

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