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What to watch for as Stars continue road trip in Edmonton

Dallas looks to put Tuesday's loss to Colorado in the rear-view mirror tonight

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

The Dallas Stars (5-4-0) are in oil country Thursday night for the second of their current five-game road trip, trying to put the memory of a disappointing 5-3 loss to Colorado on Tuesday in the rear-view mirror.

Here are some thoughts and musings in advance the Stars' only trip to Rogers Place in Edmonton, City of Champions.

 

1. Bounce-back Ben

The decision by head coach Ken Hitchcock to pull Ben Bishop in the second period of Tuesday's loss took on a mini life of its own when Bishop challenged the decision after the game. Bishop and Hitchcock both addressed the issue before the team flew to Edmonton, and both were asked about it again Thursday morning. Bishop will start against Edmonton -- part of a plan that had been put in place prior to the trip. 

He's 5-1-0 with a .920 save percentage, and while he was a bit off against Colorado, he's been rock-solid for the Stars thus far. He needs to prove he can put the minor distraction of being pulled behind him with a strong outing in Edmonton, lest it becomes a bigger story. 

"I just know in this business, you deal with it and you move on," Hitchcock said. "For me, it's not really relevant. And I think what's relevant is that coaches make decisions that a lot of players don't understand and I think as you get moving forward, you have a good feel as a coach what's going on. It was a winnable hockey game for us. We really stepped up after that change ,which I think tweaked everybody and we got playing on the right way."

Video: Pateryn ready for chance against Oilers

 

2. Defensive workings

Let's be very clear: on a number of Colorado goals on Tuesday, there were egregious defensive breakdowns -- from turnovers to missed assignments. So quibble with the goaltending, if you must, the Stars will need to be better in their own zone against a very heavy Oilers team. 

And there will be changes to the defensive alignment ,given the injury to Stephen Johns, who was rattled by Matt Duchene in the first period of Tuesday's game and did not return after exhibiting concussion symptoms. Hitchcock said Johns was feeling better Thursday, but his availability for Friday's game in Calgary remains unknown. 

But what we know is this: Julius Honka will come out of the lineup after a difficult time in Denver. That means both Jamie Oleksiak and Greg Pateryn will draw into the lineup. 

Oleksiak will pair up with Esa Lindell after being scratched in four of the last five games, but Hitchcock said other than two difficult shifts, Oleksiak has been solid. And Pateryn will see his first game action of the regular season, lining up in Johns' usual spot with Dan Hamhuis.

 

3. Connor conundrum

The Oilers are 2-5-1 and only winless Arizona has fewer points, but looks can be deceiving. The Oil are coming off an impressive road trip through Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and while they managed to go 1-1-1, they looked a lot more like the Oilers team most of us imagined would take the ice on a regular basis this season. 

While they sit dead last in the league in goals per game (hard to believe, isn't it?), they have started creating chances and seem destined to start pouring goals into opposing nets. "

They play big-body hockey. They're on the puck. They protect the puck. They got a lot of big guys especially up front," Hitchcock said. "To me, they're right on the cusp of controlling games and we just don't want to be the next opponent that they do that on. But they're right on that edge." 

Of course, it all starts and finishes with the captain, Connor McDavid, who opened the season with a hat trick, but has added only goal since -- and that was the tying goal late in regulation against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. 

With Leon Draisaitl back in the lineup after concussion issues, the speed quotient goes up markedly for Edmonton. And look for head coach Todd McLellan to reunite McDavid and Draisaitl, who last year formed one of the top forward duos in the league.

 

4. Getting things in order up front

Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have been rock-solid for the Stars, combining for 11 goals and 10 assists through nine games. 

That's the good news. But the rest of the forward contingent has been slow to come around, offensively, combining for a total of nine goals, and among that number are two empty-net goals. 

In a continuing effort to get blood from a stone, Hitchcock continues to tinker a process that began in Denver after the team fell behind the Avs. That means Brett Ritchie, who scored his first goal of the season, looks to play with Seguin and Benn, and the big line's normal right-winger, Alexander Radulov, will skate with Mattias Janmark and Devin Shore. 

Hitchcock also broke up the effective fourth line, moving Remi Elie to a line with Radek Faksa and Tyler Pitlick. Antoine Roussel will play the left side with Martin Hanzal and Jason Spezza in the hopes of sparking those two big men.

Video: Kris Russell speaks with Scott Burnside

 

5. Homecoming of sorts for Pitlick

Tyler Pitlick was taken 31st overall in 2010 by Edmonton and, a year ago, was in the process of making himself into an everyday player with the up-and-coming Oilers. But he blew out his knee -- oddly enough, playing against Hitchcock's St. Louis Blues -- and didn't get back in the lineup. 

The Stars, though, liked what they'd seen from Pitlick and signed him in the offseason, and he has been a hidden gem of sorts through the first nine games, scoring twice and adding two assists. 

"He's been good for us," Hitchcock said. "He kills penalties. He's got what we need. He's got speed. He's got tenacity on the puck. He plays the way the way our team is built, and he's excellent on the forecheck. He's got a lot of detail to his game." 

Hitchcock praised the coaching Pitlick received in Edmonton and how they're now reaping the benefits of the work put in by McLellan and his staff. 

"It's a real good thing for us," he said.

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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