Stars seeking payback vs. Blues
DALLAS — The St. Louis Blues have already defeated the Dallas Stars twice this season, winning both times at Scottrade Center.
But first-year Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock and his team hope to make those two defeats distant memories when these Central Division rivals square off Friday night at American Airlines Center.
“I think you got to be able to beat the teams in your division if you expect to make the playoffs,” Hitchcock, whose Stars are 6-9-0 against the rest of the Central Division, said after practice on Thursday.
“You can’t get a playoff spot winning outside of your division, you got to hold your own there. Tomorrow (Friday) we get a team that’s handled us pretty easily the first two games, and we want to see if we’ve improved and gotten better. We think we have, but we got to prove it.”
Dallas (20-15-3, 43 points) lost 4-2 at Minnesota on Wednesday night. The Stars are 12-4-1 at home, but just 2-2-2 over their past six games.
After practicing for about an hour on Thursday, Hitchcock feels that any lingering issues from that road loss to the Wild have been purged.
“We were too far spaced out from each other (on Wednesday), so our puck support that’s been excellent for a little while and our continuity that’s been there, we were disrupted, and we did it to ourselves,” Hitchcock said. “It wasn’t anything that (Minnesota) did to us, we did it to ourselves. We looked at it on video and that’s not who we are. We got back to it at practice today, which is a good sign.”
Stars center Martin Hanzal did not practice Thursday, but Hitchcock termed his absence as a maintenance day. Hitchcock also said Ben Bishop will start in goal against the Blues.
Dallas’ potent offensive duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have done much of their damage at home. Benn is currently on a six-game home point streak while Seguin has notched 20 of his 34 points at American Airlines Center, including a league-leading 12 home goals.
St. Louis (23-14-2, 48 points) also heads into this divisional tilt off a loss, a 2-1 setback to Nashville on home ice Wednesday evening.
The Blues are 2-6-0 over their past eight games and have scored multiple goals just three times during that stretch. St. Louis also has been shut out three times and has scored just one goal on three other occasions.
“I would say that that’s certainly the issue, but what are we going to do,” Blues coach Mike Yeo told NHL.com after practice Thursday. “Nobody’s going to give us a bunch of free goals to change that. That’s life in the NHL. It’s big-boy hockey. There’s no magic pill or magic way to get confidence. Confidence is earned, and we need to earn it for our team and we need to earn it for individuals, that’s the simple truth.”
One player Yeo would like to see rediscover his scoring touch is forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who has 17 points (12 goals) in 20 career games against Dallas. Tarasenko, however, has just three goals over his past 17 games and hasn’t scored an even-strength goal since Nov. 21, a span of 18 games.
However, reinforcements could be on the way for the Blues — who are 6-3-1 against the Central — in the form of forward Sammy Blais (lower body), out the past five games, and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (lower body), who has missed the past eight.
Blais skated prior to practice on Thursday while Bouwmeester went through a full practice. Yeo said both could travel to Dallas, but their status for Friday remains uncertain at best.
While the Blues haven’t been scoring goals of late, their ninth-ranked penalty kill has been almost impenetrable in December. St. Louis has killed 43 of 45 opposing power plays (95 percent), making the PK the league’s best for the month.
“Those guys have done a nice job lately,” Yeo said of the penalty kill. “I do think that the penalty kill has been going strong. That’s been a positive for us. We’ll have to continue that. You know we’re going to be challenged with that tomorrow (Friday). Every day is a new challenge, but definitely have been pleased with that lately.”
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