Stars vs. Blue Jackets Morning Skate: Colton Sceviour Joins Top Line; Val Nichushkin Out With Groin/Hip Injury
The Stars big Russian forward is back in Dallas while the team takes on Columbus, so Colton Sceviour will step in on the top line tonight against the Blue Jackets.
The big news from Monday carried over to Tuesday, at least in part, as Dallas Stars right winger Valeri Nichushkin didn't join his teammates on the road trip to Columbus.
Winger Curtis McKenzie was once again recalled from the AHL to join the team, after being recalled and then reassigned in a span of 24 hours over the weekend. The move is a "just in case" decision of sorts, as the Stars don't have an extra healthy forward with Nichushkin out, but that doesn't mean the team doesn't want to get the reigning AHL Rookie of the Year some into a game soon.
"The thought is to get [McKenzie] into a game while he's here," said Stars head coach Lindy Ruff. "Depends on [Nichushkin]. If he clears with the doctors today, he'll be back here tomorrow. I'd like to see [McKenzie] play; this group we're seeing tonight will get one more kick at it. We know what he did in camp, he had an excellent camp. It will be interesting to see him play."
Nichushkin has been dealing with a groin/hip issue since before camp started, and hasn't seemed to be able to really get out in front of it. He was held out of practices, scrimmages and some preseason games and the Stars were cautious with him, but he didn't quite look like himself in the first two games and on Monday was forced to leave practice early after the injury flared up on him.
The tough part for the Stars, it seems, is that it hasn't been easy nailing down exactly what the injury might be or how to go about fixing and treating it the best way possible. Ruff noted that Nichushkin has met with the doctors several times regarding this injury over the past several weeks and that the injury is "not one of the easy ones," and that this isn't necessarily a case where the young winger needs to be put on Injured Reserve or shut down just yet.
"If he clears everything with doctors today, he may be back tomorrow," Ruff said. "We're going to rely on what the doctors say. There's no reason to shut him down. We just want to really understand what is going on with him. He started practice really well on Monday, but then a few drills later, he was showing some concern. We're just going to rely on what the doctors say."
With Nichushkin out for at least one game, and with McKenzie not yet with the team -- he had not made it to morning skate -- a vacancy exists on the top line. On Monday, Ruff made some interesting shifts in practice when Cody Eakin joined the top line on the right wing. On Tuesday, the Stars lines were much more conventional.
Benn - Seguin - Sceviour
Eaves - Spezza - Hemsky
Garbutt - Eakin - Roussel
Horcoff - Fiddler - Cole
Goligoski - Daley
Benn - Dillon
Connauton - Nemeth
Kari Lehtonen will start in net.
Colton Sceviour will get his first shot to show what he can do on the top line for the Stars, and it's a combination fans have been hungry for since last season. The winger has shown an ability to produce when given the chance at the NHL level, but has been quiet so far through two games while being relegated to the fourth line.
What will be interesting to watch is how quickly Ruff will start shuffling lines if the Stars don't show any improvement over the past two games. After two periods of great hockey to start the season the Stars have fluttered a bit, and Monday's exercise in line shuffling was more about Ruff seeing what options he might have, especially on the road, and how that could play out if needed.
Other than the line combinations and chemistry questions, Ruff noted something that was very apparent against Nashville. With all of the slick skating and passing the Stars are capable of, they were thwarted by the Predators clogging the neutral zone and their entries and never could get anything interior -- and chances were very limited because of it.
"We have to execute better in some places," said Ruff. "I think we've stayed on the perimeter a bit too much, I'd like to see us get on the inside. I'd like to see us get some net scrums, some second chance opportunities. We haven't put ourselves in situations to create those."
Ruff's comments seem to hint that if this "group" as constructed doesn't suddenly start improving, then a shakeup could certainly happen -- including getting Curtis McKenzie into his first NHL game.