The Nashville Predators may have had their next game circled on their calendar for the last couple of weeks.
They lost star defenseman Shea Weber to a concussion in their last matchup with the Dallas Stars, and the teams meet for the second time this season Thursday night in Nashville - with Weber expected to make his return.
Dallas (21-16-1) won 6-3 at home over Nashville (21-14-4) on Dec. 23, and Weber, the team captain, was knocked out on a hit from Stars defenseman Mark Fistric in the closing minutes.
Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk defended the hit by Fistric, who was assessed a minor penalty but did not draw a suspension from the league.
Weber returned to the ice in non-contact drills Tuesday and was cleared to play Thursday morning. The Norris Trophy finalist leads the Predators with 29 points and five power-play goals, and he's plus-14 - also a team best - while playing more than 26 minutes per game.
"Shea, he takes up almost half the minutes on 'D,'" defenseman Kevin Klein said. "He's our leader, and he's still around the locker room pumping guys up, which is always nice. He's a good captain, a great guy and I hope he's back soon."
After losing its first game without Weber, Nashville has won three straight. Sergei Kostitsyn had a hat trick and Klein added a goal and an assist in a 5-3 win over Calgary on Saturday.
Kostitsyn scored five goals in his first 32 games before his big night.
"If he keeps throwing the puck at the net if it doesn't go in for him, it will go in for someone else," coach Barry Trotz said. "I think he's starting to get the message.''
While Nashville is getting Weber back, Dallas has a number of defensemen missing. Regulars Sheldon Souray (ankle) and Philip Larsen (concussion-like symptoms) are out, but Stephane Robidas is expected to return after a six-game absence due to a lower-body injury suffered Dec. 20.
Coach Glen Gulutzan was critical of his depleted defense corps' effort in the Stars' third loss in four games, 5-4 at home to Detroit on Tuesday.
"Our 'D' were backing off the line too much and we had some lazy mistakes," Gulutzan said. "If you're going to be lazy, it's going to cost you."
The injuries forced the callup of rookies Jordie Benn, older brother of Stars top scorer Jamie Benn, and Brenden Dillon from the AHL. Jordie Benn made his NHL debut and assisted on Loui Eriksson's first-period goal.
Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists to give 13 points over his last nine games. He logged more than 21 minutes for the second time this season.
"I made a conscious effort there to get 21 minutes tonight," Gulutzan said. "He was going and we need to find more ice for him."
While the Predators were winning with Weber sidelined, he was sorely missed on the power play. Nashville went 0 for 13 without him after scoring twice in five attempts against Dallas. They rank fourth in the league at 20.3 percent.
"We've gotta get our power play back on," Trotz said. "It's not really good right now. It has been excellent for us all year. It's hit a little bit of a light spot so that's an area we'll work on."
Predators leading goal scorer David Legwand had no points in the four games without Weber.
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