With a full week off behind them, and even more for some returning from injury, Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff knows his players, and everyone in the NHL, probably needs to shake off a little rust.
"Yesterday was a tough practice day, some pretty heavy legs," Ruff told the media after morning skate. "Some guys looked pretty good. Some guys looked like they were spitting a few fumes out. But for the most part, every team is in the same category."
The Stars were back together as a whole for the first time after the All-Star break Tuesday, as All-Star representative Tyler Seguin met the team in Montreal for tonight's game against the Canadiens. His return, along with Patrick Eaves returning from a broken bone in his foot that cost him most of the last two months, gave the forward lines a bit of a new look.
If there's a bit of a surprise, it's probably Shawn Horcoff sliding into Erik Cole's place on the second line alongside Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. Cole and Brett Ritchie both traveled with the team and participated in the skate but were wearing red no-contact jerseys. Ritchie was thought to be good to go after Monday's practice, but he obviously needs a bit more time to heal.
Given that Colton Sceviour has been playing well lately and Eaves had success bouncing around many iterations of the top two lines earlier this season, they might seem to be the likely candidates for Cole's second-line spot. Perhaps the thinking is that Horcoff gives that second line a puck retriever and net-front presence, where Cole was extremely effective before suffering an upper-body injury just before the All-Star break.
Here's the full set of lines from the morning skate, as reported by Mike Heika:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Patrick Eaves
Shawn Horcoff-Jason Spezza-Ales Hemskey
Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt
Travis Moen-Vernon Fiddler-Colton Sceviour
The Stars are also getting a player back on the blueline as Trevor Daley re-enters the fold after missing a few games with a mysterious injury of his own. With the recall of Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak from the Texas Stars on Monday, that leaves the Stars with eight healthy defensemen at the moment.
Daley spent the morning skating on what looks to be the second pairing alongside Jason Demers while Jokipakka and Oleskiak were paired together and stayed out late after practice, indicating they're the likely scratches. That would leave the defensive pairings as follows:
Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg
Trevor Daley-Jason Demers
Jordie Benn-David Schlemko
The special teams also had an interesting look with two new faces, at least from the past few games.
Dallas PP Units: Benn-Spezza-Eakin-Seguin-Daley Horcoff-Hemsky-Eaves-Goligoski-Demers— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) January 27, 2015
Heika did follow up that Klingberg rotated into the second unit a bit, but it definitely is an eyebrow-raising move that his power play time in particular seems to have been cut while others bounce right back into the mix.
While Daley has taken his lumps from the fans, he is fourth among defensemen with five power play goals, and it makes sense for him to remain in that group. Whether or not they should retain the four forward look on the top unit and who should quarterback what power play, well, that's a matter for great debate.
Kari Lehtonen appears to be the starter in net.
Back on the home front, forward Valeri Nichushkin has started skating on his own back in Frisco. He had hip surgery on November 18th and has spent the past six weeks rehabbing with the team. He was originally expected to be out about 4 months, and skating seems to be a sign that the timeline is still realistic.