Three-game eastern swing looms large for Stars

FRISCO — When the Dallas Stars kick off a three-game road trip on Saturday afternoon in Ottawa, it will mark the start of a big road swing that will see them face two more clubs from the Eastern Conference in Boston on Tuesday and in Detroit on Thursday before returning home to host the reigning NHL Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday at American Airlines Center.

And it’s no big secret under first-year head coach Lindy Ruff the Stars have struggled away from home, where Dallas has a mark of 2-5-0 and one reason why the Stars are hovering near Winnipeg for last place in the Central Division.

“We really, ideally would like to get two out of three. That’s a tough task. A couple of buildings-Boston’s a tough building to win in and Detroit, not easy either. I think the team that’s struggled a little bit has been Ottawa. But we’ve got to do our part. Our road record has to get better,” Ruff said after practice on Saturday.

Speaking of the short workout the Stars held at their Frisco team headquarters on Saturday before boarding a plane for Canada, the veteran head coach jumbled up his lines a bit, breaking up the first-line pairing of captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin but keeping together the successful duo of veteran Ray Whitney and talented rookie Alex Chiasson.

Here’s a look at what the lines were in practice on Saturday:
Ray Whitney – Tyler Seguin – Alex Chiasson
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Vernon Fiddler – Rich Peverley
Lane MacDermid/Ryan Garbutt – Shawn Horcoff – Erik Cole

Ruff’s rationale for mixing things up a bit is pretty simple and straightforward.

“Our road record hasn’t been good so it’s a look today (Saturday) that we’ll discuss on the plane ride. The only thing you can do is give some guys a different look. Take a look in practice and see what you think,” Ruff said. “We may make one or two more adjustments before tomorrow.”

Benn and Seguin had been developing chemistry on and off the ice in the early stages of the season but with the Stars as currently constructed being a one-line team, the veteran bench man decided it was time to try and find some more offensive balance, which is just fine with Seguin.

“Yeah, having depth’s huge and Lindy’s a guy that makes adjustment as he sees fit whether it’s in practice or in games. You get different looks,” Seguin said. “You’ve got to go out there and just do your job and trust the guy next to you is going to do his.”

The game Sunday with the Senators will not only start the trip but it will also be significant for two other reasons. One, it will be the first game back for fourth-line winger Ryan Garbutt, who is finished serving his five-game suspension for charging Anaheim’s Dustin Penner on Oct. 20.

And facing the Sens will also allow new Dallas defenseman Sergei Gonchar to face his former team for the first time since Ottawa dealt him to Big D over the summer.

With the Stars being Gonchar’s fifth different employer in the NHL, facing a former club for the first time is nothing new for this wily veteran, but it is an experience he’s still looking forward to.

“Obviously, it is very unusual the first time. It’s your teammates you just played with, your friends that you made over the last three years,” Gonchar said. “It’s going to be unusual at first, but it’s part of the business and you have to adjust so we can move forward.”

But there is a bit of good news on this trip as this trip will mark the first time the Stars don’t have to play a back-to-back away from home this season. But back-to-back or not, veteran centerman Vernon Fiddler knows there’s no time like the presence to start banking some points away from the AAC.

“It’s huge. We’ve got to start putting some victories together. It’s not easy to play on the road. We’ve got to bring our A game. We need to bring some 60-minute performances. We’ve been playing 40 minutes with bad starts and it’s unacceptable. You can’t chase hockey games. It’s hard on your team,” Fiddler said.

And with this being Dallas’ fourth road trip of the season, the Stars have clearly taken lessons away from their previous three treks away from home. But the bottom line for this club remains a simple one.

“There’s positives in every road trip but there’s also some negatives. We’ve got to start getting more positives than negatives,” Fiddler said.