DALLAS — Consistency is proving elusive this season for both the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars, a trend the former Central Division rivals hope to begin reversing when they meet at American Airlines Center on Thursday night.
Detroit (17-18-6) came away with a point from a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago on Tuesday, but that point wasn’t the only positive to result from that narrow defeat.
Forward Justin Abdelkader, who missed the previous six weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament, returned to finish a minus-1 in 8:41 of ice time.
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“I felt all right. I didn’t play a ton of minutes,” Abdelkader said. “Your timing’s always a little off coming back into a game like that. Tried to keep it simple for the most part. It’s going to be a process to get back, get the legs underneath you, the timing. It’s definitely fun to be back out there.”
Defenseman Mike Green also returned from an upper-body injury to play his first game since Dec. 17. He had an even rating in 24:07 of ice time.
The Red Wings, who are 10-8-3 on the road, are set to conclude a seven-game road trip on which they are 2-3-1. They were on the power play for only nine seconds against the Blackhawks, a tough break for a unit which hasn’t converted its past 55 road opportunities, a streak dating back to Oct. 19.
Detroit still generated 36 shots on goal against Chicago, a number that second-year coach Jeff Blashill really can’t quibble with.
“I thought we played a good hockey game. We got to keep grinding here and find a way to get two points on Thursday,” Blashill said.
Another plus was the 39-save performance Detroit got from Petr Mrazek in goal, a showing that might earn him a second consecutive nod in net on Thursday evening.
“I thought Petr was very good,” Blashill said. “I thought he made big saves. I can see his confidence growing.”
Forward Tomas Tatar also scored his ninth goal of the season against the Blackhawks. Even though Tatar didn’t take the ice during a Wednesday afternoon practice in Dallas, Blashill said Tatar would be good to go for Thursday’s game.
Dallas (17-17-8) returned home and didn’t practice Wednesday after a 1-2-0 road trip, a run that concluded with a 2-0 loss at Anaheim on Tuesday. One night earlier, the Stars defeated the Kings 6-4 in Los Angeles.
The Stars, who have allowed 127 goals this season, tied for the second most in the NHL, got a strong performance Tuesday from goaltender Antti Niemi, who stopped 36 of the 38 shots he faced.
“I thought Antti played well for us, gave us a chance,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said.
For a team already without captain and key offensive cog Jamie Benn (foot), injuries were again a factor for Dallas.
Young defenseman Jamie Oleksiak left the game in the second period with a hand injury. Veteran forward Patrick Eaves, Dallas’ No. 2 goal scorer with 14 goals, was checked hard into the boards and had to leave the game in the third period.
“Oleksiak’s going to be out a little bit of time. I don’t know how much, Ruff said. “Eaves I think will be OK, just caught the corner of the door.”
The timing of Oleksiak’s injury couldn’t be worse. After sending fellow young defenseman Patrik Nemeth to AHL Texas on Friday on a conditioning assignment, the Stars now have just six healthy defensemen for Thursday’s game, meaning Stephen Johns, a healthy scratch against Anaheim, will draw back in against Detroit.
However, one positive that could result from the Oleksiak injury is that it could allow the Stars to take Benn off injured reserve should he be ready to return. Benn did not play on the road trip, seeing his last action Dec. 31, but he is said to be closer to returning.
Once again, Ruff and the Stars must make do as several of their regulars are recovering from injuries, something of a regular occurrence this season.
“Of course, when we’re playing, we’re not thinking about (our injury woes),” Niemi said. “But it’s tough losing top guys from our lineup. I think we just got to work harder and play our system.”