In Phil Kessel, the Pittsburgh Penguins have another superstar to help them pursue their first Stanley Cup in seven seasons. The Dallas Stars have a couple of key additions who have some more recent experience in lifting that prized trophy.
Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and goaltender Antti Niemi will make their official Dallas Stars debut in Thursday night’s visit from Penguins.
Acquired from Toronto in July, Kessel is expected to form a formidable trio with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as the Penguins try to rebound from their first opening round exit in the playoffs in three seasons. They have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals just once since winning the Cup in 2009, getting swept by Boston in 2013.
Kessel has at least 20 goals and 50 points in each of his last seven seasons. He’s scored at least 25 goals in every non-lockout-shortened in that span campaign while totaling 217 goals.
"He’s got a great shot, he uses it well," Crosby said. "Having a guy who can shoot the puck like that on that side, will certainly draw some attention."
Pittsburgh will also try to get over the hump with what it hopes is a healthier lineup. The Penguins were 22-6-4 on Dec. 20 before a series of long-term injuries caught up to them.
That list included Kris Letang (concussion), Pascal Dupuis (blood clots), Patric Hornqvist (lower body) and defenseman Olli Maata (shoulder). Dupuis is expected to miss at least one month because of a lower-body injury.
The Penguins finished with 217 goals, their fewest in an 82-game season since 2003-04, while going 43-27-12 for the East’s final playoff spot. They’re also bring over Sergei Plotnikov to play beside his countryman, Malkin.
Plotnikov had 44 goals and 57 assists in 159 games over the past three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.
"I try to help. The first couple of weeks, he’s been scared, maybe," Malkin said. "But now he know the players. Now, I think everything is pretty easy."
The Stars missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons despite boasting the NHL leading scorer in Jamie Benn (87 points) and the league’s second-highest scoring team with 257 goals. Tyler Seguin matched a career high with 37 goals and had 40 assists to finish seventh in the points race.
They added Sharp, a winner of three Cups in Chicago, in a July trade and signed Oduya away from the Blackhawks. The defenseman was a member of two Blackhawks championship teams.
Dallas also signed Niemi, a Cup winner for Chicago in 20010, away from San Jose to help shore up a defense that allowed 257 goals, putting it in a tie with Toronto for fourth-most.
"You are bringing in great pedigree," center Jason Spezza told the team’s official website. "You are not only bringing in great players; you are bringing in great players that have won and won together."
Benn is coming off surgery on double hip surgery and Ales Hemsky had a procedure on one. Coach Lindy Ruff said both players seem ready to go after they went through a second straight full practice Wednesday.
"Everybody seems good," Ruff said. "There’s still a period of time where guys have to work through. That isn’t an automatic but guys are working through it."
The Stars had a pair of one-goal wins against the Penguins in 2014-15. Benn and Seguin scored in the final three minutes in a 3-2 victory in Pittsburgh on Oct. 16.
Benn also scored in a 2-1 victory in Dallas on March 19, giving him four goals and an assist in his last five meetings. Seguin has five goals and two assists in a seven-game point streak versus the Penguins that dates back to his days in Boston.
Crosby has seven goals and five assists in eight career games against Dallas. Kessel has one goal and four assists in his past four meetings.