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What to watch for as Stars look for season sweep of 'Canes

Dallas begins its whirlwind, three-game road swing tonight in Raleigh

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Dallas Stars are looking to find some much-needed road magic Monday night in Raleigh as they start a three-game road trip with their second and final date against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Here are some thoughts on a whirlwind trip through the southeast that includes a Tuesday date with the struggling Florida Panthers and then a homecoming of sorts for Ben Bishop in Tampa on Thursday.

 

Soldiering on without Methot

The Stars, coming off an impressive 5-0 win over the New York Islanders on Friday night in Dallas, will play their second straight game without veteran defenseman Marc Methot, who did not accompany the team on the trip. 

There is a chance Methot could join the team for Thursday's game in Tampa, but his lower-body injury is likely to keep him out until Saturday's matinee date with the Oilers in Dallas. 

In Methot's absence, the entire defense corps -- but specifically Esa Lindell and John Klingberg, who leads all NHL defensemen in points with 18 --  stepped forward in the win against the Islanders and will be counted on to do the same against the 'Canes. 

This is an especially important trip for Klingberg, coming off a dominant three-point night against the Islanders, as he'll be counted on to maintain the same calmness he's displayed at home on the road -- something he's struggled with thus far this season. 

"I would say it's on penalty killing more than anything," head coach Ken Hitchcock said of Methot's absence. 

"Methot absorbed a lot of minutes and a lot of playing time there, so that's a little bit of an adjustment. I think with (Dan) Hamhuis playing so well that he's used to playing heavy minutes from before, and he seems to be able to absorb it."

Road worthy

Speaking of the road, for the most part, the Stars have struggled to withstand the surges of strong opponents away from home -- hence their 3-5-0 record. 

Their three road wins have all been one-goal affairs and their last two road wins, in Calgary and Vancouver, were grinding 2-1 affairs. 

Coming off their best overall performance against an Islander team that had been dangerous offensively, Hitchcock would like to see that kind of 60-minute effort replicated away from the American Airlines Center. History tells us that this is easier said than done. 

"We've played some of our best hockey on the road but we haven't been able to handle the surges," he said. "We've talked about it; how to handle it, and I think we're going to be more mature and better positioned to handle it, and I think we're going to be in good shape. 

"I think the big thing for us is just to continue to try and initiate as much as possible. I think when you are reacting, that's when you have trouble with the surges. We've got wrapped up in some of the track meets that's gone on and we paid the price because of it."

It's not just the points, but the confidence that comes from winning on the road that will be crucial to this team moving forward.

"We're going to get better as a team if we find a way to win those games, and maybe, earn some confidence as well in our team game, as well," Klingberg said. "It's a huge road trip for us, for sure."

 

Carolina on my mind

The Stars got up early on the Hurricanes during their early-season visit to Dallas and then hung on for a 4-3 win.

It has been a struggle for a Carolina team that relies heavily on a very young defensive corps to gain any traction through the first month of the regular season. Their five regulation wins are tied for the second-lowest total in the league and they have been working to try and fix a misfiring power play that ranks 30th overall and is a woeful 2-for-24 at home, also 30th in the league. 

Scott Darling, a key offseason free agent signee by the 6-5-4 Hurricanes (and a player who was on the Stars' radar before acquiring and signing Ben Bishop to a long-term deal) has been up and down in his first true gig as a starter, going 4-3-4 with a .906 save percentage.

 

Special times

When the Stars have been successful on the road, it's been via their exemplary special teams. 

The power play is tops in the NHL overall, and tops in the league on the road, where they've gone 9-for-23. 

That's good. 

The interesting part about this matchup is that Carolina is first in the NHL in discipline taking just 4:47 minutes in penalties per game thus far. That's amazing, and the challenge for Dallas is to generate speed and a vigorous forecheck early in the game in the hopes of forcing Carolina onto their heels and, possibly, taking uncharacteristic penalties.

Center depth

This road trip will be a good test of Hitchcock's plan to split up his dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. 

In an effort to spread the team's offensive wealth Hitchcock moved Benn to center with Alexander Radulov and Gemel Smith, who scored the first goal of the game on Friday. 

Seguin played between Devin Shore and Mattias Janmark, and that trio was solid, as well. 

Also factoring into the offensive depth the Stars are hoping they're tracking toward is that Martin Hanzal looks more and more like the Martin Hanzal the Stars had hoped to see when they signed him as a free agent in the summer. 

And Jason Spezza -- who looks to move to the left side with Tyler Pitlick coming back in the lineup on the right side with Hanzal, after missing two games with injury -- is hoping to build on Friday's performance that saw him score his first goal of the season.

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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