Game Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins Open Season Against Dallas Stars (7:30pm CDT)

Spezza. Kessel. Benn. Crosby. Seguin. Malkin. Sharp. Hornqvist.Do you like offense?

They're baaaaack...

Dallas Stars hockey returns to the American Airlines Center tonight after a long summer as the Pittsburgh Penguins come calling, bringing with them some shiny new toys in the process.

Not the least of which is Phil Kessel, who will ply his craft now aided by what is generally considered to be the best hockey player on the planet as his center.

New Dallas Stars Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp make their debuts in victory green a night after their now former teammates watched the raising of the 2014-2015 Stanley Cup banner in Chicago.

Dallas took both meetings between the two clubs last season, including a 2-1 win at the AAC despite getting out-shot 32-26.

The Stars:

"It'll be one of the two guys, that's for sure."

Lindy Ruff is a funny man.

Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi? That was the question, and the non-committal answer from Dallas' bench-boss, now entering his third year with the team.

It's a question he'll face with much repetition, particularly if his pair in the pipes give him little in the way of convincing evidence as to the stronger of the two in a given moment, as was the case in preseason. We should know after morning skate, so stay tuned on Twitter and here on the site.

Uncertainty was not contained to that position, however, as the forward combinations looked a little interesting the last two days as Cody Eakin skated on a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

"This is aimed at a lot of things," Ruff said of the combinations. "I've got some guys that aren't quite up to speed yet. I think they'll be close come tomorrow night. It's an option that we'd like to look at."


Jokipakka-Jordie Benn

Ruff is known for trying things in practice as a contingency for what may be needed in a game. Clearly Ales Hemsky is the one that may or may not be ready, in Ruff's words. Fans should not be surprised to see these combos, and Sharp with Seguin and Hemsky with Spezza.

Conditions will change as the game unfolds.

The Penguins:

This one may not be on national television, but many across two countries will be paying close attention to what could be the league's highest-producing duo.

No, not Seguin and Benn. Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby. The two have already found chemistry in the preseason and the Stars will have to deal with it tonight, taking care not to put it on the power play too frequently.

While that pair will get top billing, there's something brewing on their second line as well- In the form of Evgeni Malkin and newcomer Sergei Plotnikov, whom the Pens scooped up from the KHL. The 25-year old is said to be a dynamic offensive talent, selected in particular to play on Malkin's left.

If that's not enough fun, noted Star-killer and former Nashville Predator Patric Horqnvist is the other wing.

And then you've got Nick Bonino on the third line. You may, uh, remember his work from this: (link)

The Stars forward group looks scary on paper. This one has the same effect, if not more:



Like the Stars, the Penguins' biggest questions surround their defense, and like the Stars, the Penguins have eight defensemen on their roster.

"We'd like to keep eight here," head coach Johnston told the Post-Gazette. "Basically, as you look at a lot of drills at practice, it runs better if you have eight defensemen. You have four lines. I find if you want a competitive pace or tempo in practice if you have six that you really wear them out."

Expectations have been that Kris Letang and Olli Maatta would form a solid top-pair for the Pens, but several days of practice this week have featured Letang with Ian Cole, and Maatta with Ben Lovejoy. We'll see what they roll out this evening, or at morning skate.

Olli Maatta found himself (on paper) sent to the club's AHL affiliate earlier in the week, but it was purely cap-related as the deadline approached.

No surprises as Marc-Andre Fleury takes the net for Pittsburgh, backed-up by Jeff Zatkoff.

We'll see you at the American Airlines Center tonight, in the game thread, or both- Hockey's back!