There's certainly a sense of impatience building as we are now just hours from the start of the 2013 season, with Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan stating that they deliberately slowed the pace of morning skate after a high-paced, yet brief, training camp.
The Dallas Stars showed no surprises on the ice during the skate, rolling the same lines Gulutzan seems to have settled on the past few days:
Defensive pairings will also be as expected, with Aaron Rome likely scratched tonight as he is still not 100 percent recovered from a nagging groin injury.
The Stars also spent time working on the power play once more, with Ray Whitney, Brenden Morrow and Jaromir Jagr looking to be the top unit for now with Derek Roy and Stephane Robidas on the point. While there were reports of a 1-3-1 look at practice on Friday, the Stars showed a 2-1-2 look with Morrow set up in front of the net.
Don't know how it will work in a game situation, but Jagr and Whitney seem to have some great chemistry in that setup.
One of the unexpected storylines of the first game of the season is the tremendous fan response following the lockout, with tonight's game close to a sell out with single tickets the only one still available. The Stars will have provided rally towels for each and every seat in the American Airlines Center, and they are expecting an enthusiastic and ramped up crowd tonight.
"It's definitely exciting," said defenseman Brenden Dillon, regarding the expected crowd. "After that hiatus, to be able to have the fans come like that is exciting and we're certainly ready to get started."
The Stars got off to a slow start when it came to attendance way back in the fall of 2011, yet ticket sales are certainly growing as Stars fans are getting caught up in the expectations of a young and promising team.
"It's awesome," said Ryan Garbutt. "It's always great as a player to get that fan support. Obviously, in Canada the fans are going to come back but down south here it's always nice to hear the fans are going to come back to support us and we're certainly thankful for that."
The Stars will be playing a number of young players in prominent roles this season, with three rookies on the ice tonight and another -- Cody Eakin -- playing in just his 31st NHL game. Those young players, although inexperienced at this level, will provide a valuable boost to the team after playing this season in the AHL and continuing to grow as players.
"I'm ready to go," said Dillon. "If there was a plus to having the lockout this year it's that I was able to get my feet underneath me and get going for the first few months of the year. I want to be here a long time, I want to help the Dallas Stars win and I want to do whatever I can to help that. Now it's just time to get to work."
Coach Gulutzan, who knows these young players very well, stated after the skate that the Stars will benefit from the infusion of youth and speed on the team -- especially from players that are already in mid-season form.
"It's nice to have guys who have played," said Gulutzan. "As many of those guys as you can have in the lineup right now is a bonus for NHL teams. Especially early on. It's going to to take two weeks before everythign gets caught up and you're going to see some guys who haven't played, they'll play fine, but it's going to take some others some time to warm up.
"I think more of those young guys that you can get in here, it's going to bring up the pace. It's easier to play back to backs."
Cody Eakin will be one of the new faces on the ice for the Dallas Stars, having come to the team as the centerpiece in the Mike Ribeiro trade. Eakin was the top forward for the Texas Stars during the lockout and will be playing with Reilly Smith on the fourth line, whom he already has developed a great rapport with.
Ryan Garbutt, who earned a one-way contract after coming up from the AHL last season, will join the duo on the fourth line.
"It's awesome to play with those guys" said Garbutt. "They're obviously fast players and smart guys, they've been playing down in the [AHL] together, they've been playing well together. They've developed some good chemistry. I'm just going to try to make room for them in the offensive zone. We'll make sure we take care of the defensive end first of all."
After nine months without Dallas Stars hockey, a new era is about to start. There is a buzz, a sense of optimism that hasn't existed with this franchise in quite some time, yet the Stars still have a very tough 48-game season ahead. It won't be easy.
"It's not a regular season, it's more if a sprint season and we understand that," said Dillon. "With seven games in the first eleven nights it's important to get a good start. This last week went really well with training camp, getting everyone on the same page and we're ready to go."