Coming off a shooting-gallery win against the Edmonton Oilers, the Dallas Stars are preparing for tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning by making very few changes to their lineup.
Mike Heika is on the scene and reported that Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Valeri Nichushkin were the late men on the ice in Tampa at morning skate, indicating they are likely the healthy scratches.
The defensive scratches aren't a surprise, particularly given how dominant the pair of Jyrki Jokipakka and Jordie Benn were against the woeful Edmonton Oilers lower lines. Nemeth and Oleksiak are going to have to outperform someone in practice by a wide margin or wait for someone to start to struggle to get playing time.
Nichushkin is a more interesting call, as there was an obvious opening in the lineup with the injury to Patrick Eaves. But he wasn't playing particularly well in the first two games or the preseason (which I wrote about a little more extensively on Tuesday), so perhaps he's also in the position of having to earn his way back into the lineup via practice habits. It's not the worst lesson to teach young players.
"Right now it's a needed one," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said when asked to classify the decision as a difficult one or a needed one. "I want to get him back in and I want to get him playing, but I think I have to get his head in the right place first."
That means Curtis McKenzie will be back in the lineup at the NHL level after a nice start to the season in Cedar Park.
Guess on Stars lines: Benn-Seguin-Sharp, Roussel-Spezza-Hemsky, Janmark-Eakin-Sceviour, McKenzie-Fiddler-Moen— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) October 15, 2015
The top-line-of-many-nicknames is starting together for the first time after dominating once they were put together against Edmonton, and Ruff said they will have to be good again tonight.
"That line was going real good and generated a lot of real good opportunities," Ruff said. "I think our whole team played with real good speed, and I think it looked like our team again. I think Tampa's gap is going to be tighter, and we're not going to get as much ice .We won't get as much time to make plays. But in the same sense, they're still going to have to be our best line."
The defensive pairs looked the same as they were on Tuesday, and they will face a much more significant challenge tonight in the fast, skillful Lightning.
Kari Lehtonen will also return to the net. He gave up two goals to the Oilers on long shots that were tipped on the way in, but the fact that he came up with the key stops when the game was tied, particularly a breakaway save on Nail Yakupov late in the third, likely earned him a second consecutive start.
It was a nice sign from Lehtonen, not only making the late save but being able to stop the bleeding after two quick goals and not allow things to continue to snowball as they did so many times last season.
Stars color man extraordinaire Daryl Reaugh mentioned on Tuesday's broadcast that new goalie coach Jeff Reese is working with Lehtonen on playing slightly deeper in his crease this season in order to cut down on the necessity of huge lateral shifts if the puck changed sides or on rebounds. It's definitely something to look for early in the season, and it may explain some of his preseason struggles.
Here's Ruff talking about the challenge the Lightning present:
On the Lightning side, positively gigantic goalie Ben Bishop looks like he'll be getting the start tonight, and their lines are as scary as ever.
#TBLightning lines: Drouin-Stamkos-Callahan Palat-Johnson-Kucherov Killorn-Filppula-Condra Boyle, Namestnikov, Brown and Paquette mixing— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) October 15, 2015
The Bolts are 3-1 this season but looking to bounce back from a 3-1 loss to Detroit.