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Dallas Stars Morning Skate: Valeri Nichushkin Back In Lineup, Lindy Ruff Coy About Defense

The Stars insert their first-round draft pick back into the lineup on left wing after a game off as they prepare to take on the unbeaten San Jose Sharks at the American Airlines Center.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With a disappointing two-game stretch behind them, the Dallas Stars are tinkering with their lineup leading up to a stout test against the San Jose Sharks tonight at the American Airlines Center.

The Stars rolled out some slightly juggled bottom six lines at Thursday's morning skate, and the defensive pairings looked the same as they've been all season. But coach Lindy Ruff played coy with the local media when asked if that would actually be the case.

Well that just clears everything up.

There are several candidates for a possible scratch on the blueline, three of them in my opinion, but it would be fairly major news if any of Brenden Dillon, Alex Goligoski or Sergei Gonchar sat out. All three have had quite forgettable moments in the first five games, but it remains to be seen if the coaching staff thinks they would improve with a game off. After all, all three are going to have to be major components of this defense, barring trades of course, if the Stars are to be successful this year.

On the front end, the forwards definitely had some minor juggling. Nichushkin was back in the top 12, this time on the left wing with Shawn Horcoff and Erik Cole. That bounced Antoine Roussel down to the fourth line with Vernon Fiddler and Ryan Garbutt and puts Lane MacDermid back in the press box.

It will be the first look on the left side for Nichushkin this season, which Heika discussed with Ruff.

"It’s just a look we’re going to try," Ruff said. "He’s played four games at right wing and he’s got one shot on net, so we’re going to give him a look over there. It doesn’t mean he’ll stay there. I think it’s just a little crowded on the right side. I’ve seen Erik play left side, and I don’t like him over there. He’s a lot more effective player on the right. And then you’ve got (Alex) Chiasson and (Rich) Peverley ahead of (Nichushkin) right now. So a move to get him more ice time will be to get him in that third line role on left wing."

The full forward complement looked like this:





The Stars have been looking for more offense out of every line other than the top trio (the second line has four goals this season, three from Alex Chiasson, but two of the overall four goals are on the power play), so putting Nichushkin and Cole together might lead to a third line with two legitimate shooters along with a faceoff and defensively oriented center who has playmaking experience. It's definitely an interesting look for that line.

On the goaltending front, it looks like Dan Ellis will make this third consecutive start for the Stars while Kari Lehtonen is rehabbing a lower body injury. There's still no definitive timeline on Lehtonen's return yet (all signs point to a relatively quick turnaround - he is eligible to come off injured reserve before Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Kings), and Ruff spoke to that after the skate.

"Kari is progressing," Ruff said. "I'd love to give you more. But he's getting better every day, and I expect him back in the near future."

Watch Ruff address Lehtonen's status as well as tonight's game against the Sharks below: