When the Dallas Stars left for a four-game road swing in the Eastern Conference we didn't think we knew much about them.
They seemed to surprise the Penguins on opening night, collapsed in Colorado despite out-possessing the Avs, and then put on a dazzling offensive display against the Oilers at home. Good, then bad, then outstanding.
What team were they?
Their 15-7 goal margin in games in Tampa Bay, Miami, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh tells, Stars fans hope, volumes more, and the 6-1-0 Stars now return to the American Airlines Center with a bit of buzz about the Metroplex.
First up - the Florida Panthers arrive tonight for a rematch without their top center-man, and then Dallas gets a chance to start testing themselves against Western Conference competition in the form of the Ducks, Sharks and Canucks.
The puck drops at about 7:08pm on Fox Sports Southwest and Spoooorts Radio 1310 The Ticket.
Dallas will be without Jason Demers after his two-game suspension was handed down yesterday for his contact with Nick Bonino, and without a practice on Friday it's unknown what Ruff and staff will do with their pairs.
Demers plays the right side with Johnny Oduya, and both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are lefties. Jordie Benn and Jyrki Jokipakka are both left-handed as well on the third pair, so either way there will be a couple of guys playing their off-side, and both of them could be youngsters.
So stay tuned after morning skate for an update on how that might go.
What's certain is that John Klingberg will be holding things down on the top pair, trying to deal with Jaromir Jagr while following up his electric performance in Pittsburgh.
The two-headed goalie monster continues to produce as Antti Niemi followed Kari Lehtonen's three-game win streak with two spectacular games of his own in Philly and Pittsburgh. We'll find out this morning who's going to go, but you almost kind of expect them to go back to Kari to try to keep both guys rolling for as long as they can.
The forward group, meanwhile, should stay about the same:
Florida hasn't won since before they saw the Stars over a week ago. They've managed only a pair of goals in three straight games, and just one at even-strength in Chicago on Thursday night on just 18 shots.
Their special teams have not been special, managing just one power play goal in their last three outings - and beyond that they're just not earning enough chances to improve it. Seven power play opportunities over their last three games, including only a single chance against Dallas.
The penalty kill, in particular, is killing them - surrendering six power play goals against over their last four, including two in each of their last two.
So needing offense, needing to draw more penalties, and needing to be better on the power play, they've lost what their coach says is their best player in the form of Aleksander Barkov for at least this game after the young centered injured his hand blocking a shot in Chicago.
"He's been probably our best player since the start of the season," Panther head coach Gerard Gallant told media Friday. "It's a big loss, for sure. He plays both sides of the puck. He's great defensively and plays a great offensive game. He's a real team player." [Miami Herald]
So that leaves them with some variation of these bodies:
Florida took five second-period penalties in Chicago and eight total on the night. The first night back after a long road trip is notoriously slow, but the Stars would do well to put the pressure on the Panthers, as did the Hawks, by drawing some early penalties with their speed.
From Stars PR:
STARS HOLD ANNUAL HOCKEY FIGHTS CANCER NIGHT ON SATURDAY
As a part of the league-wide initiative, all members of the Dallas Stars coaching staff will wear Hockey Fights Cancer ties on the bench during the game and Dallas Stars players will wear lavender jerseys during warmups. Bekki Nill, who is the wife of Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill, will participate in the ceremonial puck drop. Bekki was diagnosed with breast cancer over 15 years ago and is continuing to undergo treatment. For the third season in a row, she will be hosting a suite at the game for breast cancer fighters and survivors. The theme for this season's Hockey Fights Cancer night is "I'm Inspired By", an acknowledgement that we are all inspired by people who continue to fight this disease, as well as the people who stand by them during their fight.
CLICKING ON ALL CYLINDERS
The Dallas Stars completed their four-game Eastern Conference road trip with a perfect 4-0-0 mark to improve their overall record to 6-1-0, the best start for the team since posting the same record to begin the 2011-12 campaign.
Dallas currently leads the NHL this season in goal-scoring (25) and have scored the most goals through seven games since the 1995-96 Dallas Stars, who recorded 26 goals in their first seven contests. The Stars have notched a power play goal in five of seven games so far and boast the League's second-best power play at 30.4% (7-for-23). Additionally, Dallas ranks fourth in the NHL with a 90.0% penalty kill (18-of-20) and over the last five games have killed 13-straight opponent power play opportunities (13-of-13).
THE ONCE AND FUTURE KLING
Stars defenseman John Klingberg recorded his first multi-point game (1-1=2) of the 2015-16 season, notching the game-winning goal on the power play in Thursday night's win against the Penguins. Klingberg currently has a three-game point streak (1-3=4) and recorded an assist (0-1=1) in his previous game this season against Florida. The native of Sweden has six points (1-5=6) this season and shares the team-lead with a +5 plus/minus rating. During the 2014-15 campaign, he finished tied for fourth on Dallas with 40 points (11-29=40) in 65 games in his first season in the NHL, establishing new Dallas Stars records for most goals (11), most assists (29) and most points (40) in a single season by a rookie defenseman. Klingberg led all NHL rookie defenseman in assists (29) and points (40), ranking fourth and seventh among all NHL rookies, respectively, and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.