Coming off a season in which they led the Western Conference in points, the Dallas Stars have been among the league’s biggest disappointments as they prepare to host the Nashville Predators on Thursday. The Stars are coming off a 2-1 home loss to Calgary, denying them a chance to win back-to-back games for only the second time this season.
Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
When: 8:30 PM ET, Thursday, December 8, 2016
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
|15||NASHVILLE||0 (-110)||5.5 (-110)||-115
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, FSN Tennessee (Nashville), FSN Southwest (Dallas)
PREDICTION: Stars 4, Predators 2
DALLAS — The Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars meet at American Airlines Center on Thursday, and these Central Division rivals square off under different circumstances.
Nashville (12-9-4) defeated the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday, making the Predators 9-4-1 over their past 14 games.
“I thought we did a real good job in the third period,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said after the win. “I thought we did a good job, played a smart game, a strong game.”
The Predators, who are 3-7-2 on the road, also got a lift from the return of former Stars forward James Neal, who scored a goal in his return to the lineup after missing the previous four games with an upper-body injury.
“It’s obviously a good feeling when you get back to playing with your teammates,” Neal said. “It makes it a little easier when you’re on home ice. It feels good to be back and good to win.”
Dallas (10-11-6), on the other hand, heads into the divisional tilt off a loss, 2-1 to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.
After taking a 1-0 lead to the first intermission thanks to Curtis McKenzie scoring in a second consecutive game for the first time in his short career, the Stars were listless for most of the final 40 minutes. Coach Lindy Ruff put his players through the paces Wednesday morning during a hard practice that lasted just under one hour.
“I only care about the work,” Ruff said after practice Wednesday. “You can be frustrated, but don’t quit working. I thought there was times in the game (on Tuesday) where we were a little frustrated and we didn’t work. (Wednesday) was all about working, just keep working. Work when you’re tired.”
Against the Flames, Dallas lost rookie defenseman Julius Honka, its top pick in the 2014 draft, to an upper-body injury late in the second period. Honka did not practice Wednesday and was ruled out for the Thursday game, but he could return later this week.
Ruff called Honka’s absence “short term” and said Honka shouldn’t miss more than a few games.
Ruff also gave updates on injured forward Jiri Hudler (illness), out the past 18 games, and defenseman Johnny Oduya (lower body), sidelined the past eight games, but neither veteran will play against Nashville.
“Obviously, Jiri (Hudler) is getting closer,” Ruff said. “I fully anticipate that (Oduya) would be ready by the weekend, but I think (Thursday) is a stretch.”
Ruff said he plans on inserting rookie center Jason Dickinson, who was recalled from AHL Texas on Tuesday, into the lineup against Nashville.
Dickinson will make his season debut and will appear in his second NHL game after scoring a goal in his NHL debut, a 4-2 win in Dallas against Colorado on April 7, 2016.
“He’s a big man that skates well,” Ruff said of Dickinson. “With some of the players we have out, some of the speed part of our game is missing. He’s a guy that I think we can put in and he can add to the speed of our lineup.”
Nashville and Dallas, which is 6-4-2 at home, already twice this season. Dallas prevailed 2-1 at home on Oct. 18, while Nashville won 5-2 in the Music City on Nov. 23.
Gritty Stars forward Antoine Roussel is focused on how he and his teammates will perform once they hit the ice to conclude a two-game homestand.
“I expect a big win for us,” Roussel said. “I don’t really care about how (the Predators) are going to play, I just expect we’re going to come out the gate really strong and play 60 minutes.”
And should the Stars deliver a full, consistent effort, it would a welcome change for their coach.
“We’re not playing a 60-minute game, and we haven’t for this first part of the season,” Ruff said. “It’s been 40 out of 60, 20 of out 60. The disappointing part is we put together probably our best 60-minute effort (Saturday at Colorado). We followed it up with a real solid 20 minutes (on Tuesday) and probably played our worst 20 minutes in the second period.”