The Dallas Stars will face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday evening with a lineup that looks almost exactly as the one that came away with a win in Columbus, this time with Erik Cole back on the second line and Patrick Eaves sliding down to the fourth.
Curtis McKenzie, who was recalled to be the extra forward with Valeri Nichushkin out with a groin injury, looks to be a healthy scratch as his NHL debut will have to wait for at least one more game. Things could change after warmups, but Ruff generally likes to roll in games what he used in the morning skate and right now -- McKenzie and defenseman Jamie Oleksiak look to be the healthy scratches tonight.
The lines in morning skate today:
Benn - Seguin - Sceviour
Cole - Spezza - Hemsky
Garbutt - Eakin - Roussel
Horcoff - Fiddler - Eaves
Daley - Goligoski
Benn - Dillon
Nemeth - Connauton
Kari Lehtonen, once again, back in net for the Stars.
After three games the big story is the dominance shown by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn after they basically called themselves out for the team's poor performance in Nashville. This is what the Stars are used to seeing, especially after last season. What hasn't happened, however, is the emergence of the second line created in the offseason to hopefully spread the scoring around a bit.
Through three games, Hemsky and Spezza both have just one assist and are a combined minus-8. While plus/minus is certainly a flawed stat, it shows just how lopsided the scoring has been for a team that was touted for it's depth heading into the season.
"In my case, I have to have a little bit of patience," said Ruff, referring to the struggles of the second line so far. "It took [Seguin] and [Benn] a little bit of time to really find their groove, playing together. They've had some time with Erik Cole. They've come from different systems. They've come from playing against teams that, I think, have different systems and less structure inside of a game. Sometimes you have more time to go back and wheel and there's teams here that, you know, through the neutral zone are very structured and very tough to play against."
It's important to remember that, even though Hemsky and Spezza played together last season -- it was just for 20 games and it was for a completely different team, with a different system in a much different conference. Just as there was for the Stars at the start of last season, it's going to take some time to get all of the cylinders firing at the time for Spezza and Hemsky when a system is built around speed, anticipation and chemistry.
Part of that struggle is the lack of a consistently effective left winger, as Cole and Eaves have bounced back and forth on that line now.
"I liked them in game one," said Ruff. "I thought that [Spezza] had a couple of grade A chances in the Nashville game. In the game we just won, it was mainly dominated by Benn and Seguin. At even strength they didn't get a lot done. It's going to be about trying to get inside a little more, working a little harder as a group.
"It's not just one or two of them. The three forwards have to work better together and I thought there was too much distance between them, especially in the offensive zone."
Tonight, against a team that is averaging over four goals per game in this very young season, would be a great coming out party for the Dallas Stars vaunted second line.