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Central Intelligence: Stars Struggle to Stay Healthy

Jamie Benn the latest injury for reigning division champs to overcome

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

Injuries have been a constant source of frustration for the Dallas Stars this season. 

Patrick Sharp only recently returned from injury and has played only 13 games this season because of a concussion that caused him to miss nearly a month.

Ales Hemsky played in one game before undergoing surgery that could cause him to miss the entire season because of a torn labrum.

Now, the Stars will be without captain Jamie Benn after he sustained a foot injury last Saturday against the Florida Panthers. While the ailment isn't expected to be long-term, the team placed Benn on injured reserve; the earliest he's allowed to return is next week.

Benn, one of the NHL's most durable players over the years, hadn't missed a game since 2013-14.

"This is a situation where it's our responsibility to keep him out because he could probably play, but to what effect he would be and where he would be in a couple days would be a big concern of ours," Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. "We've been hit hard with [injuries], and Jamie's another one, but we have to plug a guy in his spot. We've got some guys that are coming back now, so someone's going to have to pick up the slack for him."

Dallas, the defending Central Division champions, have been unable to get into a groove this season. The Stars enter the weekend in fifth place in the division and just one game above .500 at 16-15-8. 

Their latest defeat, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens, was especially frustrating for Ruff. In many ways, it encapsulated Dallas' season so far.

"I thought we beat ourselves," Ruff said. "They didn't earn it, we gave it away."


'Peg Makes a Push

The Winnipeg Jets rank among the bottom six teams in the NHL in goals against but have remained afloat because of rookie Patrik Laine and a breakout season by Mark Scheifele. 

The Jets have reached the halfway point of their schedule earlier than any team in the Western Conference and have started to play better of late, entering the weekend having won six of their past nine games, moving into fourth place in the Central Division and to within a point of the second wild card spot.

The teams around them have games in hand, but if Winnipeg can stay within striking distance over the next few weeks, it doesn't appear as though its offense is going to be slowing down any time soon.


Blues Earn Big Win Outside

Two of the best teams in the Central were featured in the 2017 Bridgestone Winter Classic earlier this week with the Blues defeating the Blackhawks by a 4-1 score.

It was the first outdoor game for the Blues, who dropped Chicago to 1-5 in outdoor games, including losses in each of the past two. Minnesota defeated the Hawks 6-1 at TCF Bank Stadium last February in a Coors Light Stadium Series game.  

St. Louis, which has also struggled to find consistency over the past couple weeks, hopes to use the victory on a big stage to kickstart a momentum-building run.

"I think we can. The next part's up to us," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk told Lou Korac of NHL.com. "We have a chance with three home games here to really build something."

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