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What to watch for as Stars hit road to take on Blues

Dallas will look to turn the page from a difficult opening-night loss to Vegas, but it won't be easy

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

ST. LOUIS -- After dropping their season opener to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, the Dallas Stars hit the road and look to quickly turn the page against the St. Louis Blues.

Here are six things to keep an eye on tonight.

 

1. Short memories

The problem with season-opening games, regardless of the outcome, is that far too much stock is put in the outcome.

Win and all the preseason predictions of greatness (the kinds of predictions of greatness that followed the Stars into the regular season) are justified and possibly magnified. Lose, as Dallas did in blowing a third-period lead and losing 2-1 to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights Friday night, and all of that optimism seems misplaced.

The truth, as is usually the case, exists somewhere in the middle.

The Stars were good for lots of Friday night's game. They took the play to a less talented team and ran into a hot goaltender. They took too many penalties and couldn't finish. The challenge is in synthesizing that and getting ready for a St. Louis team that knows the Stars very well, and will be rested and confident coming off a nice overtime win over Pittsburgh in their season opener earlier this week.

"You've got to be careful. We were awful good for a long time yesterday," head coach Ken Hitchcock said Saturday. "We know we're going to have some blips and we're just going to have to fight through it. We did so many good things yesterday it was pretty frustrating to lose that hockey game the way we played especially in the second and third period but that's the way things go."

Still, the veteran coach warned it's far too early to be making any kind of judgment.

"It's hard to be patient," Hitchcock said. "If you really talk and believe in the process you've got to believe in it. I believe in the process. We're doing it. We're doing it right."

 

2. Kari's turn

One of the curious things that took place in Friday's loss was the departure of starting netminder Ben Bishop four minutes into the third period, with the Stars leading 1-0, when he took a hard Reilly Smith shot to the face-mask area.

He appeared to be cut, and while he returned to the bench area and spoke with backup Kari Lehtonen, Hitchcock said doctors would not clear Bishop to return. Not sure it had any bearing on the outcome, as both Vegas goals were results of defensive breakdowns and Lehtonen did make several stellar stops among the 11 shots he faced.

Bishop, who has strong ties to the St. Louis community having played youth and high school hockey in the area and then being drafted by the Blues in 2005, will back up Lehtonen, who was scheduled to start this game given the back-to-back schedule to start the season.

Both goaltenders skated Saturday morning.

"Same plan, Lehtonen's playing tonight. Ben will back up so nothing's changed," Hitchcock said.

Video: Hitchcock on return to St. Louis

 

3. Homecoming, yes, but distracting, no

Hitchcock returns to St. Louis for his first regular-season game since longtime pal and St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong dismissed Hitchcock on Feb. 1. Sure, it'll be different, but given that Hitchcock's Stars played the Blues twice during preseason, including once at Scottrade Center, Saturday night won't have quite the emotional impact and allow for the focus to be on two divisional points.

"I think what's made it better for me is we played an exhibition game in the building," Hitchcock said. "So it's helped me a lot. But it's a Central Division game, and I think the wake-up call for me is I have a clear understanding of how good the teams in the Central Division are, how accomplished they are, how veteran they are. They don't beat themselves. So, it's, to me, two points. But I think the reason I'm able to think that way is because we 've played St. Louis twice in exhibition, so the friendship part is over and now it's on to business. But there were times when you would go back into a building and you'd never played the team, and you went back in for the first time. I remember coming back into Dallas with Philadelphia, it was very emotional. I remember going back into Philadelphia it was really emotional to go there with Columbus, too."

 

4. Roster tinker

Rookie Gemel Smith, who played a solid game on the fourth line for the Stars in Friday's loss after making the Stars out of training camp, will give way to veteran, physical winger Adam Cracknell against a heavier Blues lineup Saturday.

Hitchcock did allude to another possible roster change for Saturday's game, but said it would be a game-time decision.

Video: Burnside speaks with Pietrangelo

 

5. High praise for Hitch

Hitchcock is one win away from moving into a tie with legendary New York Islanders bench boss Al Arbour for third place in the all-time coaching wins category.

While many of the Blues will know Hitchcock's tendencies, and he theirs, Dallas captain Jamie Benn said Hitchcock has made an immediate impact on the Stars even over a very short period of time.

"It's been huge," Benn said Saturday. "He's a smart man and a helluva coach. We definitely want to come in here and help him get a win as well. But he's taught us a lot even though it's so early. We can definitely learn a lot from him."

 

6. Impressive Blues

Speaking of the toughness of the Central, the Blues showed well in their first game of the season in spite of being wracked by injury early on.

Without Jay Bouwmeester, Patrik Berglund, Zach Sanford, Alex Steen and Robby Fabri, the Blues withstood a late charge by the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and won it 5-4 on captain Alex Pietrangelo's overtime snap shot.

In fact, three of the five Blues' goals were scored by an active blue line, with Pietrangelo scoring twice and Colton Parayko getting the other.

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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