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What to watch for as Stars face off against struggling Habs

Dallas begins a stretch of three games in four nights tonight with the first leg of a back-to-back

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

The Dallas Stars kick off Thanksgiving week with a home date against the struggling Montreal Canadiens tonight before heading immediately for Denver and an important date, 24 hours later, with divisional foe Colorado on Wednesday.

Here's what to watch for as the Stars begin a stretch of three games in four nights that will conclude with Friday's home contest against Calgary, which will feature the jersey retirement of Jere Lehtinen.


Desperate, hungry, angry

No, not talking about the Dallas Stars, actually. Those words more accurately describe a Montreal Canadiens team that is teetering on the brink of a lost season what with the ongoing drama surrounding netminder Carey Price, who has not played since November 2 -- and even when he was playing, was very un-Price like with a 3.77 GAA and .877 save percentage. P

rice skated with his teammates for the first time since the injury on Monday and is on their current road trip, although head coach Claude Julien already confirmed that rookie Charlie Lindgren will get the start against Dallas Monday.

But never mind the goaltending. The real issue for a Habs team that is just 8-11-2 is the offense, which ranks 30th in the league in goals per game. The power play is likewise tepid -- tied for 30th -- and frankly, the penalty kill isn't much better at 28th overall.

So, easy pickings, right? Ha.

Would it be any surprise that a Montreal team coming off a 6-0 shellacking by the hated Toronto Maple Leafs at home on Saturday would be overjoyed to be away from the media glare in Montreal for a few days? As Head coach Ken Hitchcock noted, this will be a very dangerous team, and the Stars will not be looking past them.

"Well, I think when you lose at home, it's not a good feeling. And then you go out on the road, you want to make amends for it," Hitchcock said Tuesday morning. "We just can't be surprised by the start."

Video: Nill assesses first quarter of season


Bish times two

With Kari Lehtonen away from the team following the birth of his son Remi Sunday, the expectation is that Ben Bishop will play both ends of the back-to-back. That's not a normal schedule, but it's actually an interesting opportunity for Bishop to get into a groove. '

Bishop came on in relief of Lehtonen early in the second period of Saturday's 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers, stopping all 18 shots he faced. Bishop has struggled at times with his adjustment to Dallas and hasn't won two in a row in more than a month.

He looked calm and poised against Edmonton, and maybe, it's not such a bad thing to play a bunch of games in a row, if it's going to help him get to the level of play that he's accustomed to playing at.

Heading into play Tuesday, Bishop is 8-6-0 with a .906 save percentage. That said, he has been light's out at home with a 6-1 record and stellar .948 save percentage.


Close but no cigar

For much of the first quarter of the season, the Stars have ridden strong special teams in the absence of consistent depth scoring.

The power play has tailed off only slightly, with one goal in their last 11 attempts over the past three games, but the unit still ranks second overall in the league.

That's a function of teams taking away the team's shot selection. But the real concern has been the slow erosion of the penalty kill.

The Stars have given up at least one power-play goal in seven of nine games, and the unit has fallen to a tie for 10th in the league -- although they are fifth in the league in home penalty killing.

Still, definitely an area of concern.

"No, it's not the ebb and flow of the season," Hitchcock said. "We are in the right spot every time. But we are a couple of inches off, or we're at 10 percent effort off from doing what we did before. So our sense of urgency needs to go up, and we don't want to lose positional play in doing it, because we're in the right spot, we're right exactly where we need to be.

"Our guys have really bought into that but now we need to accelerate the effort at the puck and that's something that we addressed (Monday) and today."


Radulov the erstwhile Hab

When we saw Alexander Radulov surrounded by mostly Montreal media Tuesday morning, it seemed like the similar scrum that had formed around his stall at the Dallas practice facility Monday afternoon had never ended, but simply picked up and traveled downtown.

But it's a function of how impressive Radulov was in his one season in Montreal that he remains very much a hot topic of conversation there, especially with the team struggling offensively, and with Radulov eschewing the Habs' late contract offer in the offseason after he'd agreed to a five-year deal with the Stars worth $31.25 million.

As he has from the beginning, Hitchcock had nothing but praise for Radulov, insisting that it doesn't matter how many points the big Russian winger gets for the Stars, he is a leader in terms of his work ethic and willingness to do the hard work in the hard areas on the ice.

But let's not overlook how important Radulov's been to the offense, especially in light of the lack of depth scoring in the lineup thus far.

Radulov picked up two more points in Saturday's win with a goal and an assist, and he has now collected at least a point in 10 of 11 games. He has eight power-play points, tied for the team lead with captain and oft-times linemate Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg.

If Radulov, who leads the team with 11 minor penalties, could cut down on his trips to the penalty box, not sure there'd be anything to complain about in his first months as a Dallas Star.

Video: Hitch on Radulov and Rous joins the top line


Time for results?

In the NHL, we draw lots of lines in the sand.

Thanksgiving (and/or the first quarter of the season) is a big one for coaches and general managers. If the Stars did a lot that was positive in terms of special teams, puck possession, face-off wins (they are second in the NHL in face-off winning percentage), it has not necessarily been reflected in the important trends: wins and losses.

At 10-9-1, it's clear the Stars will have to be better at the point collecting end of things if they're going to make good on offseason projections that they were poised to rejoin the elite teams in the Western Conference.

Continuing to play well at home, where they are 7-2-0, is a good place to start that.

"We're now into Game 21. Now, it's about wins and losses," Hitchcock said. "So the trends are what they are. We look like the darlings of the numbers game, but now, we've got to translate that into wins."

It would strike us that in order for that to happen, positive trends like goals from Devin Shore (his first) and Jason Spezza (his second) on Saturday need to continue, along with strong games from other supporting cast members -- Antoine Roussel, Radek Faksa and Tyler Pitlick -- must continue, and not just periodically, but become an almost-every-day habit.

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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