Stargazing: Stars Gear Up for Tough Road Test

Stargazing is a daily assortment of Dallas Stars  and Texas Stars news, and whatever other random ramblings are bouncing around inside our heads.

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The Stars' four day break is coming to a close, and a trio of stout road tests starts tomorrow night in San Jose with the Sharks. This was the Dallas' longest break between games this year, not counting the Olympic break of course. They have only two more breaks of at least three days remaining, one of which is next week before the team travels to Detroit. After that, the remainder of the season will come at a dizzying pace.

Dallas has used the time to become relatively healthy. Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen both returned to the lineup for three consecutive games, and strange and wonderful as it sounds, both remain healthy a week later. James Neal has returned to practice as has Krys Barch. Brad Richards and his nagging soreness surely benefit from the break as well. The health of the team, tenuous as it is, is a welcome improvement over the woes of last winter.

Turning our attention to the Sharks: They've just won their 10th game in their last 12 tries. They have once again, as we knew they would, risen authoritatively to the top of the division. Last year on November 11th, the Sharks were 14 points ahead of the Stars. This year, they're 8 points ahead and the Stars have two games in hand. Dallas will see Phoenix on Saturday night, and then will likely to stop back home for a day or two before continuing their "road trip" in Detroit on Wednesday.

After the jump: More on Brett Hull's HOF induction; Lines for tomorrow's game; Is Steve Ott getting suspended again? A new Stars injury? And more Stars news and notes...

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Steve Ott has another city in an uproar, and the Star Tribune updates the possibility of punishment:

With Petr Sykora recovering at home from a concussion, Wild coach Todd Richards said Tuesday he doesn't expect NHL officials to discipline Dallas center Steve Ott for the hit that blasted Sykora's head into the glass Saturday. But dangerous shots to the head -- and the serious injuries they cause -- will be discussed by the league's general managers as they conclude their fall meetings in Toronto today.

...

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said he didn't consider it a dirty play.

"It's part of hockey," he said. "You never want to have anyone get injured, but some things are unavoidable in a contact sport."

And yesterday, they reported that lack of video may spare Ott:

Richards does not anticipate the NHL will discipline Steve Ott for his hit on Petr Sykora. He said the hit was not easily seen on the video, which would hamper NHL officials' ability to review it. As for Sykora, Richards said he is feeling better, and the fact that he is coming around quickly is a good sign. "It's not a lingering thing where he's kind of in limbo, so that's positive,'' Richards said.

I suppose that's why I haven't seen it again anywhere. It's hard to comment on, so we'll cross our fingers that Ott is more careful in the future so he can stay on the ice, and move on.

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Fabian Brunnstrom is listed as day to day with a shoulder injury sustained in practice this week. Mike Heika reports the lines from Wednesday's practice as the following:

Here were the lines Crawford went with today, and they appear to be the lines he will use against the Sharks.

Neal-Richards-Eriksson
Morrow-Ribeiro-Benn
Petersen-Modano-Lehtinen
Ott-Wandell-Barch

Grossman-Robidas
Skrastins-Niskanen
Fistric-Daley

Turco

It appears Brian Sutherby and Jeff Woywitka will be your healthy scratches.

So Sutherby sits, and Ott will play 4th line minutes. It just goes to show you how dramatically things can change for a player based on the health of the team. Everyone must be prepared to do their part and play where they must.

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Richard Durrett has some nice comments from Mike Modano regarding Hull's induction, and possibility of his own inclusion someday:

"It was good," Modano said. "It was short and sweet, about an hour. They are only allowed four or five minutes to talk. It was a bit of a zoo. Everybody has a lot of friends and family. We were there to show our support."

Modano admitted that he couldn't help but think about what it might be like to be inducted one day himself.

"That would be a fitting end to anybody's career," Modano said. "You don't think about that when you start playing. You're not thinking whether you're Hall of Fame caliber. You play because it's fun and you have a good time, but to culminate in that would be pretty awesome. I can only imagine how humbling it is or how fortunate it would be to be recognized."

Personally, I'd like to see Mike pile a couple dozen more goals on before we start thinking about things like.

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The USA Today reports that the Blues will honor Brett in St. Louis on December 15th:

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Blues plan a ceremony on Dec. 15 to honor Brett Hull's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Hull will be honored prior to a game involving his first two teams, Calgary and St. Louis. Plans for the ceremony were announced Tuesday.

Hull began his career with the Flames in 1986 and came to St. Louis in a trade in 1988. He scored a career-high 86 goals and was the league MVP in 1990-91, and followed that with two more 70-plus goal seasons. All told, he had 741 goals and 650 assists in 19 NHL seasons.

Hull was inducted into the Hall of Fame Monday.

The Stars don't play that night. I guess you can borrow him.

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Mike Heika says the opposition has started targeting James Neal, seeking to were him down with physical play and desirable defensive match-ups:

"You're out there playing against big, tough guys, and it's a challenge every night, and you have to be ready for it. I think if you're confident in what you're doing, you'll be fine."

Neal is confident, but does he have to adjust his game to survive the physical abuse? Some targeted players have worn down over time. Some find a way to deftly avoid hits. Others move out of the danger zone and become less effective.

"I think he can give it pretty well, and he's used to that type of game, so I don't see him changing," Richards said. "If he wants to play a different type of game and not go to the net, then he probably wouldn't have his nine goals. Unfortunately for your body sometimes, that's just the way it goes."

While I'd like to see James take good care of himself, I think that like Brenden Morrow, he's not going to back down.

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Dallasstars.com has notes on practice, and the four day break:

With four days off between games, the Stars have been making the most of their practices.

"We don’t get a lot of practice time, so this is a great practice block for us," says Head Coach Marc Crawford. "We let the guys know right away that it was going to be hard for these two days and it was. I really appreciated their effort and their intensity. It’s tough to stay intense for the amount of time that you practice. If you’re only doing it for a short amount of time it’s a little bit easier. But here, we’re over an hour each day, an hour 15 yesterday and hour and five or 10 today. All hard drills, all really action packed and all lots of intensity lots of physical plays. You run the risk that you do get a bump and a bruise. We got one, but we got a couple of guys back and otherwise we got through it pretty positively."

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The Stars get ESPN props, albeit in a Fantasy Hockey context, but it's flattering all the same:

...Take the Dallas Stars for example. The Stars finished 20th in the league last season for scoring, were a collective minus-63 and were coming into this season with essentially all the same puzzle pieces except for their blue-line offensive catalyst who bolted for Russia (Sergei Zubov). Most folks expected things to turn around a bit for the Stars if they were blessed with a healthy Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards, but to be tied for fifth in the league in scoring at this point was not expected. The Stars have four players on pace to top 30 goals after having only one score more than 24 last season.

Loui Eriksson and Richards are the two biggest risers this week as I have to tip my hat to coach Marc Crawford and the Stars. Crawford is letting his players attack the net and relying on the burgeoning stalwarts on the blue line to handle things in their own end.

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