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Dallas Stars Morning Skate: Patrick Eaves Returns to Lineup, Antti Niemi in Net

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A couple of lineup changes are on tap for yet another Lindy Ruff reunion with his former team and town.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars roll into First Niagara Center for the first game of a two-game road swing as hot as any team in the NHL, beating basically everyone who isn't named the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That is particularly intriguing to the Buffalo Sabres media, as they had a very long relationship with current Stars coach Lindy Ruff. During the media session after the Stars morning skate, Ruff was asked about what was different for his team this season.

"We had a little bit of a rough time last year," Ruff said. "We gave up too much defensively, and I think those two guys (Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya) came from a structure where defense was as important as offense. They know how to win and how to play in the close games. We had too many games last year where we were good offensively but we weren't good enough or committed enough away from the puck, and it cost us. And these two guys inside the room have come from that culture that if you're wining 2-1 or 3-1, that's good enough. You don't have to win any bigger than that."

As far as lineup changes for tonight, Ruff mentioned that Patrick Eaves will get some special teams time (he was a strong slot option on the first-unit power play last season, though one would assume he'd slot on the second unit at the moment with the top group rolling) and provide a defensively responsible forward to complement the second line.

Here is what the forward lines looked like at morning skate:

With that group and assuming Travis Moen is healthy as Ruff claimed on Monday, he appears to be the healthy scratch.

On defense, the Stars mixed up their pairings a bit according to Mike Heika, but the first run had Jordie Benn and Jyrki Jokipakka as the third pair. That would mark Jokipakka's return to the lineup after two games on the shelf with an undisclosed nagging injury.

The Finn of the night in goal will be Antti Niemi, who has never won in Buffalo but is due for a start after a couple games on the shelf. The Stars have been very dedicated to letting both netminders get regular starts, and they've been fairly consistent about putting in a new goalie at the start of a road trip or homestand.

With their strong record and big Central Division wins, the Stars find themselves in the somewhat unfamiliar position of being the hunted rather than the hunter of the past several years, defending a small division lead early in the season. And while that is a new experience for many of the players on the Stars roster, Jason Spezza said it's definitely not a bad thing.

"I think it's good for a team," Spezza. "I think it's a good challenge. It forces you to bring your best game every night and creates good habits, because if you let your guard down, you lose. So I think it's created good habits amongst the dressing room, and it's pushed us to become a better team."

Buffalo isn't a team to be overlooked, either. They are the hottest team in the Atlantic Division (6-3-1 in their last 10 games) have have a plethora of young talent.

Linus Ullmark will start in goal, and Zach Bogosian will make his season debut. The wonderfully named and former All Star center Zemgus Girgensons does not look like he'll play either.

Here is Daryl "Razor" Reaugh previewing tonight's game in moving pictures: