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Dallas Stars Shake Up Line Combinations; Valeri Nichushkin, Sergei Gonchar Likely vs. Kings

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The Stars get a few more players back on Tuesday night in what will be one tough test against the defending Cup champs.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, with Tyler Seguin out after his wisdom teeth removed and still some uncertainty about the health of a few other players, Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff didn't do much to change the line combinations in practice -- Tuesday's morning skate was a different story, however.

Winger Valeri Nichushkin is expected to play Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings after missing nine games with a hip/groin injury. After a conditioning assignment in the AHL, his return means the Stars can get back to line combinations that resemble something closer to the sort of balance Stars fans have been looking for.

Behold the reaction to the news:

"We're going to try to play him a regular shift is what we're going to try to do," said coach Lindy Ruff regarding Nichushkin. "Obviously, he's kind of unknown territory and he has been bothered by the injury and now is coming off it. Had a couple games where it looked like his conditioning was good inside those games and if we use him, it'll be playing a regular shift."

Nichushkin's presence on the top line once again gives the Stars what appears to be a much better balance in firepower and also moves some players back to a source of comfort -- Seguin back to center, Hemsky back with Spezza. Nichushkin is certainly the key factor here and it's completely unknown how he's going to fit back in with the team after missing so much time over the preseason and the start of the year.

"We never really had him in camp and we never really had him in the preseason," said Ruff. "We had bits and pieces of what he can do," Ruff said. "I really think he's a tremendous talent and he had a great first year. I think just the fact of getting acclimated over here took a little bit of time at the start of the season, but probably from Game 30 on, he really fit in well, played well. He played well on both sides and I hope he can get through this because he's a big part of our team."

Officially, Nichushkin and Gonchar are both game-time decisions but they were skated along with the team in their normal spots this morning and logic says that most likely means they're playing tonight. Gonchar was paired with Jamie Oleksiak, with the top four remaining the same as they have all season long.

The Stars are facing a Kings team that has struggled so far on their road trip (0-3-1) and now are set to play the final of the five games before returning to Los Angeles. This will be a tough test for the Stars, especially with the Kings focused on ending the road trip with an actual win, and the Stars attempting to regain chemistry and energy after two very alarming performances over the weekend.

There's been a lot of talk about Ruff being being focused on the energy of the team rather than just the line combinations and any changes that needed to be made there, but the players had some interesting comments what that means to them -- playing with "no energy."

"When you don't execute, you look slow, and that sucks the life out of the building and out of the room. It becomes an issue that gets into your head," center Jason Spezza said. "When you move the puck and create speed, there seems to be all sorts of life in your team and in the building, and then energy is everywhere."

It's an interesting conundrum -- is it just the execution that has been lacking? Is the execution tied to chemistry? Do the Stars just need to play with more fire under their skates?

"Honestly, the coach says to you that the team lacked energy, to me that's kind of a shot to the dressing room," defenseman Trevor Daley told Mike Heika. "Nobody wants to hear that you looked like you lacked energy. That sounds like you're tired and not trying. So I definitely think we need to find a way to dig deeper and come out with more emotion.

"It's execution too, and playing as group of five, and focusing on the details of the game, that gives you energy," Daley added. "But I hear energy and I think effort, and we need to be more intense in our effort."