The cavalry has started to arrive.
After a five game road trip (2-1-2) that saw the Dallas Stars missing up to six of their top nine forwards, at least those expected before the season, the return to the American Airlines Center to face the New Jersey Devils marks the return of the first of those players as well as the imminent appearance of at least two more.
Jason Spezza, who has missed the last five games with a lower body injury, looks set to play tonight in place of Justin Dowling (a good sport at bouncing up from the AHL at the last possible moment). He obviously brings a tremendous offensive boost to the top two lines as well as the power play.
Another player thought to be close is Patrick Sharp, who was still skating wearing the red no-contact jersey at today’s morning skate. As he is recovering from a concussion, it’s much tougher to say if he will be available next game or in a week (initially, it was thought he might be available on the road trip), but he’s certainly moving in the right direction.
Also skating in the red no-contact jersey with his teammates was Cody Eakin, who hasn’t been spotted with the rest of the herd since suffering a knee injury in training camp. He won’t play tonight but may be available Thursday or Saturday to bring his unique brand of energy back to the team.
The only name missing (at least of those who are expected back before April) is Jiri Hudler, who continues to battle what the team is calling a mystery illness. And it isn’t mystery as in they’re being coy either. According to Lindy Ruff, Hudler has had any number of inconclusive tests and is still having more to figure out why he continues to feel ill.
With Spezza back and Sharp and Eakin on their way, the Stars get more than 60 goals and 100 points of potential offense back in the lineup as well as the ability to spread out the offense among different lines. That’s a huge boost for a team that’s been struggling to find consistency on both sides of the puck.
Spezza skated on Devin Shore’s wing on the third line at the morning skate, giving the Stars an All-Stars caliber forward on each of the top three lines (as long as Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin continue to be split up). Patrick Eaves did not skate, but he hasn’t been practicing much at all with a reported foot injury, and there’s no indication he will miss tonight’s game.
And they will be facing a team missing some potential offense of its own as Taylor Hall will miss tonight’s game with a lower-body injury, meaning once again we will miss out on the renewal of the Taylor-Tyler draft day storyline.
In terms of scratches, it looks like Dowling, Esa Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak are out with Stephen Johns coming back in on the blue line. Antti Niemi appears to be the starting goalie after Kari Lehtonen had a letdown late against the Vancouver Canucks.