Sharks hope to get Couture back vs. Stars (Dec 31, 2017)

BY AP • December 30, 2017

DALLAS -- On Sunday night at American Airlines Center, the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars will meet for the first time this season, and there's no shortage of great storylines for these former Pacific Division rivals.

San Jose (20-11-4) defeated Calgary 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday night at SAP Center.

Center Logan Couture, who leads the team with 15 goals, now appears ready to return as the Sharks begin a five-game road trip. Couture has been out with a concussion sustained Dec. 15 against Vancouver,

"Still up in the air. We'll see how I feel today (Saturday) and then tomorrow do the same," Couture told the Bay Area News Group after practice on Saturday when asked about a potential return in Dallas.

During practice on Saturday, before San Jose traveled to Texas, Couture returned to his normal spot of centering the Sharks' second line alongside Kevin Labanc and Melker Karlsson.

Tomas Hertl, who had been centering that line in Couture's absence, moved to wing on the top line alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

Even though the signs appear favorable for Couture's return, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer remained non-committal about what his lineup might look like on Sunday evening.

"I don't know if that's going to be our lineup tomorrow or not," DeBoer said. "We threw some combinations together. We're going to see who's available tomorrow, who isn't. I don't know if Logan's available yet, so the line combinations we used today are really irrelevant until we see tomorrow who we have."

Dallas (21-15-3) heads into Sunday's game off a 4-2 win against St. Louis on Friday night.

The Stars bounced back after blowing a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes. The Blues scored two unanswered goals to take a 2-1 lead and appeared poised to win before Alexander Radulov scored twice, including a late empty-netter, to ice Dallas' first victory against St. Louis this season.

"I think last night was a good step," Stars center Jason Spezza said after practice Saturday. "We've lacked a little bit in coming back in games. I think that's something we addressed. We have to be better coming back, which we did last night."

Ben Bishop will again be the starter in goal for Dallas on Sunday evening. But the Stars will be without veteran center Martin Hanzal (center), who will not resume skating until after the calendar turns to 2018.

"Hanzal is out until January 2. We've decided that we want him to be not on the stop-and-go thing. He's going to begin to amp up to full speed on the second of January," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said after practice Saturday.

Defenseman Marc Methot, out since mid-November knee surgery, will miss his 23rd consecutive game, but Methot, one of the Stars' big offseason additions, appears close to returning to the blue line.

"Marc Methot skated today (Saturday) and is not ready," Hitchcock said. "We're looking into the New Year, kind of post-January 1 when he's ready to play. He's not up to speed. The issue right now is fitness."

Despite missing Methot, who was expected to help stabilize the Stars defensively, for much of the season, the veteran NHL coach has been pleased with how well his defense has played, even with such an important player not in the mix.

"I think the growth of (Esa) Lindell and (John) Klingberg responsibility-wise has helped and then obviously the play of (Dan) Hamhuis and (Greg) Pateryn has really helped. Those two elements have been a factor," Hitchcock said. "Yeah, I'm surprised. I'm pleasantly surprised that we've been able to sustain that level (with Methot out)."

Hitchcock added that young center Jason Dickinson, who was a healthy scratch Friday after being recalled from AHL Texas earlier in the day, is a possibility to play against the Sharks.

With the Blues lighting the lamp twice in the final 20 minutes on Friday, Dallas' third-period goal differential remains squarely in the negative at minus-15 (43-28), but Hitchcock feels that number warrants some explanation.

"No (that doesn't concern me)," Hitchcock said. "I think the numbers in the third period are a reflection of what are you doing when you're down a goal? How are you playing the game? What we were doing is trying to hit the home run. There's one time it works, the other 10 times it doesn't work."

Hitchcock feels those numbers should even out since his team is no longer trying to hit the home run or make the high-risk offensive play when trailing in the third.

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