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(notes) 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(notes), 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(notes) 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(notes), 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.”