The Russians are coming. Are you ready?
The Dallas Stars have assigned defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka to the AHL this afternoon, after recalling Valeri Nichushkin from his conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars. It's a good sign for Dallas, as it means that defenseman Sergei Gonchar is also close to returning -- at a time when the Stars could really use some veteran presence on the blue line. There's no guarantee that either player will be on the ice Tuesday, however.
"Val got through the weekend OK and in practice looked pretty good, but he's still a little bit behind on the conditioning," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "And for me, it's just getting a good conditioning read on Sergei. I think he's healthy enough to play, it's where his conditioning level is at."
The Stars also had Ales Hemsky back on the ice after he left the game early on Saturday, and chances are the team could finally have a full and healthy roster heading into Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings. Given the way that Ruff is talking, however, it seems there's a better chance of Gonchar playing before Nichushkin.
Tyler Seguin was named the NHL's Third Star of the Month for October, just a day after he had his wisdom teeth removed. Seguin missed practice on Monday but is expected to play against the Kings -- amazing, since I couldn't get out of bed for four days after having mine removed.
As far as line combinations go, the Stars didn't show off the drastic changes that many expected and wanted. Nichushkin was on the right wing in Seguin's place on the top line; otherwise, lines were the same.
Jamie Benn - Jason Spezza - Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Ryan Garbutt
Patrick Eaves - Vernon Fiddler - Ales Hemsky
Erik Cole - Shawn Horcoff - Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski - Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn - Brenden Dillon
Kevin Connauton - Sergei Gonchar
Ruff is determined that his team can pull out of this slump of sorts without the need to change all of the lines up, and said that any changes will depend on Nichushkin's status.
"It depends on where Val is at," said Ruff. "It will hinge on what type of lines I put together. But, for me, the scoring will come if we win enough battles and play hard enough."
It's been stated that the obvious lack of chemistry and energy on the team means changes are obviously needing to be made, but the patience Ruff has spoken of so far this season is still in play. The Stars have slowly seen the aggression and speed taken out of their game and it's resulted in some abysmal performances for long stretches at a time the past few games, but Ruff truly believes that right now it's about execution and making the plays rather than any need for change.
"It's shorter shifts, it's the willingness to not go by plays, it's basically the will to stop and compete instead of maybe guessing and hoping another guy gets the job done," said Ruff. "We were guessing on the offensive on some of those plays, some of those battles, and we guessed wrong."
"With us, our puck movement leads to good energy," Ruff added. "We made plays, easy passes where you don't connect, and all of the sudden you look at the takeaway/giveaway ratio is heavily in the other team's favor. For me, it starts with that first pass."
Tuesday night. Los Angeles Kings. Time to test that theory.