Stars-Penguins Preview

Having to face two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference,

the Dallas Stars figured they’d be tested on their current

four-game road trip.

They were more than up to the challenge in what seemed like a

difficult matchup their last time out, however.

After handing Washington its first home loss of the season, the

Stars carry plenty of momentum into Friday night’s meeting with the

Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.

Dallas (11-3-0) missed the playoffs for a franchise worst-tying

third straight season in 2010-11, but has looked every bit like a

contender early on. The Stars lead the NHL in wins and are among

the league leaders with 45 goals.

Dallas began its trek with a 5-2 win over Carolina on Sunday and

continued its excellent all-around play Tuesday, defeating the

Capitals 5-2 with three goals in the third period. Washington came

in 6-0-0 at home.

The Stars, winners of four straight and three in a row on the

road, conclude their trip Saturday against Detroit.

“It’s a good measuring stick for us,” coach Glen Gulutzan said.

“We’re trying to gauge ourselves against the league, coming into

Washington and then heading to Pittsburgh and Detroit. (Tuesday) we

liked our game. It just gives us confidence moving forward.”

Dallas now faces another tough task against the Penguins, who

are 4-1-1 at home while killing off all but one of their opponents’

15 power-play opportunities. The Stars have been outscored 17-6

during a four-game road skid in the series.

After back-to-back losses, Pittsburgh (9-3-3) regrouped to

conclude a three-game trip with a 3-2 shootout victory over Los

Angeles on Saturday. Chris Kunitz tied the game with 2:57 left in

regulation before scoring the deciding goal in the fourth round of

the shootout.

With five days off, there was speculation that Sidney Crosby,

sidelined since Jan. 5 with a concussion, could make his

much-anticipated return. Crosby, however, was ruled out by coach

Dan Bylsma on Thursday and won’t return until Tuesday at the

earliest.

“You can’t replace a guy like Sid. He obviously makes our team

better when he’s in the lineup,” Kunitz said. “Right now everybody

is pulling their own weight.”

The Penguins have climbed to the top of their division with a

gritty defensive effort, surrendering a league-low three power-play

goals in 44 chances. Marc-Andre Fleury has turned away all 38 shots

he’s faced when Pittsburgh has been short-handed.

“Our penalty kill does a very good job in front of them,

limiting opportunities and also giving (Fleury) shots that he can

work with,” Bylsma said. “(Fleury) doesn’t give up a lot of

rebounds, and when he knows where those shots are coming from, he’s

a big part of that penalty kill.”

Fleury, 5-0-1 with a 1.44 GAA in his last six games, is 4-0-0

with a 1.96 GAA lifetime against Dallas. He’ll look to slow down

Dallas’ rising star Jamie Benn, who’s notched three goals and eight

assists over a six-game point streak.

“Things are going pretty good right now,” Benn said. “I think

it’s because we’re playing a simple game and playing the right way.

Guys are having fun and we’re all buying in and getting big points

on the road.”

Kari Lehtonen, 11-1-0 with a 2.13 GAA, is 5-0-0 with a 1.77 mark

on the road. However, he’s gone 0-3-1 with a 3.21 GAA in his four

games at Pittsburgh.

Penguins left wing Tyler Kennedy, sidelined the last nine games

with concussion-like symptoms, is expected to be a game-time

decision.