Lindy Ruff loves to play mind games when it comes to practice and pre-game skates for the Dallas Stars, so it's a good idea to take anything that happens at one with regards to the lineup with a little grain of salt.
With that out of the way, all signs are pointing to the fact that injured second-line center Jason Spezza may very well make his return to the lineup tonight as the Stars take on the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale.
Ed. note: The official site is saying it now too - Spezza officially back in the lineup tonight.
"I like getting back playing. I miss the game when I don’t play and I have hard time watching up top," Spezza said. "It feels like a long time, and I am happy to be back, happy to be back on the ice with the guys."
The first hint of good news came from how the Stars ran morning skate, with Mike Heika on the scene:
Jason Spezza (missed six games with upper body injury) running with 1st PP unit to start morning skate. Looks like he could play 2nite.— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) February 18, 2016
Spezza was injured in the Stars victory over the Colorado Avalanche after being knocked into the boards by Francois Beauchemin. The Stars haven't revealed what exactly the injury was, but this Tweet from the team's strength and conditioning coach seemed timely:
Take that as you will.
Roster space for Spezza to come off injured reserve was created on Wednesday when the Stars sent Curtis McKenzie back to the AHL after a brief two-game stint with the team.
Notably, though, Spezza didn't skate at center for much of the skate, likely because he's only had a few days of practice time before potentially rejoining the lineup. Here's what the lines looked like in Glendale:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Jason Spezza
Valeri Nichushkin - Mattias Janmark - Ales Hemsky
Colton Sceviour - Vernon Fiddler - Patrick Eaves
Radek Faksa rotated in as the extra player, which indicates he's the likely healthy forward scratch. The defensive pairs looked the same as last game, with Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka working as the presumed fourth pair.
Antti Niemi was the first goalie off the ice, indicating he's the likely starter. Kari Lehtonen had a strong night against the St. Louis Blues in the overtime loss (no one can blame him for a weird hop off the referee and a 4-on-3 overtime power play), but the Stars appear to be trying to set a regular goalie rotation after relatively long starting stretches for each player in the last few weeks.