The Dallas Stars are finally back at the American Airlines Center after a week-long, four-game road trip to the East Coast, and they will be trotting out their highly-paid Finnish goaltender to try and get them started off on the right foot against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Okay, so that really isn't all that helpful for this particular team. They're starting the goalie whose first name ends with an i.
(Hey, it's Game 16 and the same team for the second time in eight days. This is the best comedy you're going to get from me.)
Coming off the road trip, Antti Niemi will make his return to the Stars net tonight as he gets another shot at the Leafs, this time on home ice.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff mentioned that the original schedule for the goaltender rotation has undergone several permutations already based on quirks of the schedule and who is playing well, but Niemi and Kari Lehtonen have shared a roughly equal burden thus far, with Niemi having eight starts to Lehtonen's seven while Lehtonen carries the better GAA and save percentage.
Lehtonen played the last three games of the road trip but struggled last time he started in net after the team came off the road (that mess of a loss to the Florida Panthers), so it certainly makes sense to try Niemi in the role this time, especially when you consider he's had to sit for the past three games.
Speaking of that Panthers loss, the Stars are trying to take some lessons from the thud of a homecoming last time. Over the past few seasons, the team has had a reputation for trying to do too much on home ice and gotten themselves in trouble trying to make extra special plays where simply solid ones would suffice. It's an understandable habit with the home crowd behind you, but Ruff said he wants the team to take a more road-oriented approach tonight.
"Just trying to play a sound game, not be in a hurry to do something big right off the bat," Ruff said. "We had some missed assignments last game when we played like this that hurt us. You don't want to get chasing the game, because if you get chasing the game, it'll hurt you. Just play a strong two-way game."
On the skater end, it looks like Antoine Roussel will come back into the lineup for Devin Shore, who skated late with Lehtonen and Schroedinger's defensemen Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak. Roussel had missed the last two games with an upper body injury.
Barring any last-minute scratches again, he'll slot in on the fourth line while Vernon Fiddler stays up on the third.
Stars expected lines: Benn-Seguin-Sharp; Janmark-Eakin-Spezza; Hemsky-Fiddler-Sceviour; Roussel-Faksa-Nichushkin— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) November 10, 2015
The defensemen are the same as they ever were (and why would you change when things are going well).
Speaking of why change what worked, the Leafs are starting the voodoo goalie.
Winnik (lower body) is out tonight allowing Holland to get back in the lineup ... Bernier also out so Bibeau will back-up Reimer once again— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 10, 2015
The Stars may have self corrected their shooting percentage the very next game (six goals on 63 shots in two games is a 9.5 shooting percentage after all), but one would suspect they'd like to get a little correction against James Reimer as well.
To prepare you for tonight's game, here are some moving pictures and sound, mostly from Thursday's practice: