Oilers, Stars look for improvement in Saturday matchup

The Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars both seek better performances in their game Saturday at American Airlines Center in Dallas, but do so for different reasons.

Edmonton (9-8-1) lost 4-2 to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday at Staples Center, and Oilers coach Todd McLellan kept his focus simple during a Friday morning practice in Anaheim prior to his team hopping a plane for Dallas.

“We worked on fundamental skill development, plays in and around the net,” McLellan said. “I thought it was good for our group. Hopefully it carries forward into a game situation.”

McLellan said the Oilers could get injured forward Matt Hendricks (lower body) back for Saturday's game and that injured defenseman Kris Russell (undisclosed), a former Star, could also play in Dallas this weekend.

Should Edmonton, who is 5-4-1 on the road, get both Hendricks and Russell back, the man behind the Edmonton bench has no doubt about what sort of jolt of positive energy that could give his club.

“It should provide an energy boost, it should give us a different look and it should create a competitive environment within the team right now for ice time,” McLellan said.

Dallas (7-6-5) edged the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Thursday at home, but all three Stars goals came in the first period, and coach Lindy Ruff was none too pleased about how his team performed over the game's final 40 minutes.

“We got smoked in chances, we got smoked in zone time,” Ruff said of Thursday's win after practice on Friday. “I said to the team there was three things I liked. I liked our goaltending, I liked our discipline inside the game when it came to the differential in penalties, and I liked the little man that came in the dressing room after the game that the players spent some time with. That for me brought a smile to my face.”

The Stars got injured center Cody Eakin, who had yet to play this season due to a knee injury sustained in preseason, back on the ice against Colorado.

And on Saturday, it appears veteran forward Patrick Sharp could return to the lineup for the first time since sustaining a concussion in an October game against the Kings.

“Yeah, it feels great. Joined the team last week on the road. I think that was good for me, being out for a couple weeks to be around the team and get a few practices in,” Sharp said after practice on Friday. “Body feels great, I feel like I'm past the injury, I feel like I'm in great shape and ready to get back in there when the coach wants.”

Ruff now has the luxury of picking between two veteran goaltenders in Kari Lehtonen, who was strong in Thursday's win and the man reason Dallas won, and Antti Niemi, who played equally well in a 2-1 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

Lehtonen was first off the ice at practice on Friday, but that might not mean anything.

Still, Ruff's focus isn't on which netminder he'll go with on Saturday; it's more centered around bigger-picture sort of things.

“I think that my focus right now is to get all areas of our team going well.” Ruff said. “We got to get firing on all cylinders. That's our top-end forwards, got to get them playing well and producing. They're playing well defensively and right now the goaltending's been going good, our special teams has gone in the right direction, four or last five on the penalty kill side have been clean and we've pushed the differential in our favor. Now it's time to build a little momentum.”

Dallas will be playing game three of a four-game homestand.