Surprising Stars visit Neal, Penguins

The surprising Dallas Stars will shoot for a fifth straight rested Pittsburgh Penguins in tonight's clash at Consol Energy Center.

Expectations were not high for Dallas this year after the club missed out on the playoffs for a third straight season last spring and then lost top centerman Brad Richards to free agency. However, with an excellent 11-3-0 start to the season, the Stars are currently leading the NHL with 22 points -- one more than the Penguins.

The Stars have won four straight for the second time this year and can match a season-high winning streak with another victory tonight. Dallas, which is 5-2-0 as the visiting club this year, is playing the third test of a four-game road trip tonight after posting a pair of 5-2 victories to begin the swing.

Dallas secured its most recent win Tuesday in Washington, as Michael Ryder scored twice and Jamie Benn added a goal and two assists to lead the Stars past the Capitals. Adam Burish and Eric Nystrom notched the other goals for the Stars, while Kari Lehtonen stopped 30-of-32 shots for the win.

"Tonight we liked our game and I think it just gives us confidence moving forward," Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan said.

Benn is off to a phenomenal start to the season, posting 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists) in his first 14 games. He has three goals and eight assists during a current six-game point streak.

The Stars will get to face a familiar face tonight, as Pittsburgh's James Neal meets his former club for the first time since he was traded to the Penguins last February. Neal came to Pittsburgh along with defenseman Matt Niskanen in exchange for blueliner Alex Goligoski on Feb. 21.

Neal is leading Pittsburgh with nine goals and 14 points this year, while Niskanen, who missed the last game with a lower body injury, has one goal and three assists. Goligoski has two goals and four assists for Dallas.

The Penguins haven't played since notching a shootout victory last Saturday in Los Angeles. The long layoff led some folks to speculate that Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby would finally make his return tonight from the concussion he suffered last January, but Pens head coach Dan Bylsma ended that talk on Thursday.

"Although we've given no timetable or date, I will confirm that Sidney is not playing in the next two games," Bylsma said. "He had a good week of practice and is progressing, but he won't be playing this weekend. We're not keeping a secret. When he plays we'll make sure we let you know."

Crosby, a former Hart Trophy winner, has been practicing since the start of training camp and was cleared for contact last month. He hasn't played since Jan. 5 of last season.

The Atlantic Division-leading Penguins have won six of their last eight games (6-1-1) and ended a two-game slide with Saturday's victory over the Kings. Chris Kunitz tied the game with 2:57 to go in regulation and won it in the fourth round of the shootout, as Pittsburgh snuck past LA, 3-2.

Steve Sullivan also scored for the Penguins, while Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves.

While Crosby is out for tonight's test and Saturday's game in Carolina, forward Tyler Kennedy is expected to be a game-time decision for this evening's tilt. Kennedy, who has one goal and two assists in six games this year, is also recovering from a concussion and hasn't played since Oct. 15.

Pittsburgh has won its last three home games and is 4-1-1 in the Steel City this season.

The Stars recorded a 5-2 home win over the Penguins in the only meeting between the clubs last year, ending Pittsburgh's five-game winning streak in the series. Dallas has lost four straight in western Pennsylvania and last posted a victory in Pittsburgh on Dec. 23, 2000.