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What to watch for as Stars look for first win against Red Wings

Ben Bishop returns to the net for the first time since leaving Dallas' opener with an injury

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

The winless Dallas Stars (0-2-0) will continue their search for a breakthrough first win of a 2017-18 season still in its infancy with the undefeated Detroit Red Wings (2-0-0) in town Tuesday night.

Here's what to look for.

 

1. Welcome back, Remi Elie

With Adam Cracknell scooped up on waivers by the New York Rangers on Monday - no doubt, Rangers assistant coach Lindy Ruff who coached Cracknell in Dallas had a large say in the matter - the Stars recalled Remi Elie, one of a handful of youngsters who had a strong camp, but for a variety of reasons -- not the least of which was the salary cap crunch in which the Stars find themselves -- was sent to the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Cedar Park, Texas.

Elie's return means Ken Hitchcock will ice a lineup with even more speed.  

"Obviously we love Elie," Hitchcock said. "Everything equal, Elie made the team out of camp and deserved to play. He's just a hard player. He's fast. He's hard. He's heavy on the puck."

He's exactly the type of player made for the way the game is played now, which is at breathtaking speed.

"The league's gone up a whole other level," Hitchcock said. "You'd better catch up. It's a fast league, it's a tenacious league."

"The games for me are must-watch every game, every night has got some unbelievable elements in it," he added. "We're trying to build a group that can compete at the pace that's out there."

 

2. We'll have some finish with that, please

The Stars' early-season woes offensively are self-evident. They have three goals in two games, and just one even-strength goal to show for their efforts. But it's not like they aren't getting looks. The Stars lead the league with an average of 43 shots on goal per game. That's a lot. And they aren't giving up much, allowing an average of 25.5 shots per game, fewest in the league.

But it's a results oriented business, no? And that means shots and chances mean nothing if they aren't finding the back of the net. To that end, some potential juggling of the lines for Hitchcock, who, at least for part of Tuesday's morning skate, moved Mattias Janmark -- a fixture with Jason Spezza -- to a line with Martin Hanzal and Devin Shore. Elie moved up to play with Spezza and Brett Ritchie. The big line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov remains intact, and there's no reason to expect that line won't continue to generate significant offensive opportunities.

Hanzal will play, even though he missed most of the final two periods in Saturday's loss to St. Louis with a lower-body injury.

"I feel pretty good. I had a good skate today, so pretty good," Hanzal said Tuesday.

Hanzal missed most of the preseason action nursing an ankle injury, and he suggested Tuesday's game should have the team's full attention.

"There's still a lot of time, we shouldn't be panicking because we lost two straight games, but … every point matters, and it decides whether you're a playoff team or not. So I think tonight's going to be a huge game for us, and we have to leave everything out there just to get the first one."

Certainly Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill understands what faces his team.

"We know we're going to get a team that's real focused," Blashill said. "Before you look, they could have a lot of wins in a row, so we want to make sure one of them is not tonight."

 

3. Honka time

We wondered how long it would be before Julius Honka saw some game action, given that the Stars started the season with eight defensemen including the 21-year-old puck-moving defenseman, who could have gone back to the AHL where he's played the last three seasons.

But with Dan Hamhuis nursing a groin injury, Honka will join the lineup and will likely play with Jamie Oleksiak. Marc Methot will move into Hamhuis's normal spot alongside Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell, and John Klingberg will continue to skate together if Tuesday's pregame skate is the template for the game against Detroit.

Honka showed flashes throughout camp of the high-end offensive skill that is so critical to team success in the NHL, given the aforementioned speed factor that now dominates the game. But there were more than a few rough moments defensively, and with the Stars suffering from some early defensive breakdowns, it will be a good test for Honka to see whether he's ready for prime-time NHL action, having worked closely with defensive coach Rick Wilson in recent days to improve his overall game.

"He's going to add a real element to us," Hitchcock said. "He's an on the edge type of player he's very dynamic with the puck. He really moves the puck, he's really competitive and he's not afraid to make plays."

But, the coach added, there is a risk reward element to Honka's game.

"What I like is he's got no fear. He's not afraid to make plays. He's not afraid to try stuff. He's a high-wire act and you're going to have to live with some of the stuff that goes on with the high-wire act, but I really like what he brings to our team," Hitchcock said.

 

4. Goalie battle

Ben Bishop will return to the Stars net Tuesday night, and remains without a decision as he was forced from the season opener Friday night when he took a hard Reilly Smith shot to head four minutes into the third period that left a nasty cut above the left eye, requiring eight stitches to repair. He backed up Kari Lehtonen in Saturday's 4-2 loss and has yet to give up a goal.

In the team's two season-opening losses, they have been victimized by top-notch goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury in the Vegas Golden Knights' goal and Jake Allen of the Blues.

It does look like the Stars will avoid the red-hot Jimmy Howard, who has been sensational for the Red Wings, allowing just three goals on the first 77 shots he's faced as it appears Petr Mrazek will get his first start of the season in goal for Detroit.

 

5. Face-off conundrum

The new crackdown on faceoff violations has forced all teams, including the Stars, into adjusting how they deploy their personnel, especially in the defensive side of the ice and some of that is reflected in how Hitchcock is assembling his forward units.

"I think the thing with lines that all of us coaches are learning right now is you can't take a faceoff on your side of the red line without having two people being able to take the faceoff," Hitchcock said. "That's the reality of our game. Because there's more guys getting kicked out than there are taking faceoffs. So you'd better be prepared and that's what we've done."

That means for draws in the defensive side of the ice, Hitchcock will almost always have at least two players who are comfortable on draws on the ice, "because it's 50-50 whether they're going to get to finish the draw, and you've got to be prepared for that."

Hitchcock said he has seen games turn early in the season based on the faceoff violations. The Stars, for the record, rank seventh in the league in faceoff efficiency with a 52.3 percent success rate.

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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