The Dallas Stars enter game 10 of the regular season in a very good place, getting off to the generally fast start they'd hoped for (at least thus far) while showing off improved goaltending and a still-potent offense.
The Vancouver Canucks are also playing quite well, sitting in second in the Pacific Division with only two regulation losses of their own so far. Given that, one could easily argue that the Stars were preparing for their most difficult Western Conference opponent so far as they took their Thursday morning skate at the American Airlines Center.
Let's start with the line combinations that had Stars world in a brief kerfuffle.
Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Radek Faksa
Patrick Sharp - Jason Spezza - Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark - Tyler Seguin - Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel - Vernon Fiddler - Colton Sceviour
Now, you might wonder, what exactly is up with those lines. There was a little bit of social media eyebrow raising (okay, and a little bit of social media voice raising) when they first showed up this morning.
But before you get your pitchforks and Benn/Seguin video compilations out, the explanation is actually fairly simple.
Stars working on PK/PP today.That's why lines were juggled. Should be back to normal tonight.— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) October 29, 2015
Or Lindy Ruff just likes to mess with people and gets amused by their reactions. I honestly sometimes think it's the latter, not the former.
The bulk of the work with those units appeared to be on the PK, and that's reflected in the two middle lines that don't really PK at all and the three groups of two on the other two lines that do or could be projected to (Benn-Eakin, Fiddler-Roussel, Sceviour-Faksa).
But really, Ruff just likes fooling with people.
On the blueline, the return of Jason Demers from a two-game suspension means that things are back to how they were in the season's first seven games, with Alex Goligoski playing with John Klingberg, Demers playing with Johnny Oduya and Jordie Benn paired with Jyrki Jokipakka. Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are back to being healthy scratched.
It's been tough for Nemeth and Oleksiak to get in the lineup. Both struggled in the 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, and Oleksiak had some very high and very low moments in the win over the Anaheim Ducks. But with a team that has been playing a consistently strong possession game and getting results, it's hard to justify changes just in order to get those two playing time.
Along those same lines, goalie Antti Niemi will be making his second consecutive start (and fourth start in five games) tonight after being the first goalie off the ice. Kari Lehtonen struggled and was eventually pulled in the first game of this homestand, the loss to the Panthers, and Ruff has indicated that made some changes to the preexisting goalie schedule. It will be very interesting to watch when the Stars give Lehtonen another shot to jump back in, particularly if Niemi keeps being solid.
Lines & D pairs in morning skate: 22-33-17 14-21-18 47-53-36 50-91-15 Extra 24 23-8 27-6 5-44 Extra 55 pic.twitter.com/CB4GCSstZR— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) October 29, 2015
Of note in that lineup is Brendan Gaunce, the Canucks first-round pick from 2012 who started this season in the AHL and will be making his NHL debut tonight. He is the younger brother of former Texas Stars defenseman Cameron Gaunce.
Ryan Miller will start in goal for the Canucks again, his 10th start in 10 games this season. He's been extremely solid this season with a 0.930 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average.