DALLAS -- The San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars are currently on the wrong side of the cutoff line for the Stanley Cup Playoffs picture in the Western Conference, which makes the game between the former Pacific Division rivals at American Airlines Center on Thursday crucial.
San Jose (29-22-8) is 2-5-2 in its past nine games, including a 5-1 loss at the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. The Sharks are currently tied in points with the Los Angeles Kings, but L.A. holds the final wild-card spot in the West by virtue of having played two fewer games. San Jose's recent struggles led coach Todd McLellan to shuffle his lines at morning skate on Thursday.
"It could (help us defensively). We're hoping that," McLellan said. "We've won two of our last nine games with the same group, so it's time to shake things up. We'll see if that gives us an opportunity to be productive. If not, we can always go back."
McLellan moved left wing Patrick Marleau from the second line to the top line, where Marleau will likely line up on the right side alongside left wing Melker Karlsson and center Joe Thornton.
Joe Pavelski, previously on the top line, drops down to play on the left side of the second line alongside center Logan Couture and right wing Tommy Wingels.
McLellan is keeping his defensive pairs intact from the Nashville game.
This game will mark the first for defenseman Brenden Dillon in Dallas since the Stars traded him to San Jose in Nov. 2014 for Jason Demers. Dillon admits returning to face the Stars, who he played 149 games for prior to the trade, is a bit weird.
"I had to figure out where the away dressing room was, first off. Obviously, lots of emotions. I am really excited for this game," Dillon said. "It's a great city, great fan base and a great group of guys that I wish the best for. But I am really happy being in San Jose."
Goalie Antti Niemi was first off the ice and will start for San Jose, his seventh start in the Sharks' past eight games after Alex Stalock started in his place at Nashville.
Dallas (27-22-8), has won four of its past five games, including 4-1 at the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, but Stars coach Lindy Ruff wants to see more consistent results on home ice.
"I think we've played good hockey for two months, consistent hockey. Maybe we haven't been rewarded with it. We've played some great games in this building and lost. Those are tough to swallow," Ruff said. "We've won four out of five again and we've got to continue doing the right things and give ourselves the best chance of winning games."
Left wing Travis Moen missed the last half of the third period at St. Louis with a lower-body injury and was placed on injured reserve Wednesday.
Dallas recalled left wing Brendan Ranford, the nephew of former NHL goaltender Bill Ranford, from Texas of the American Hockey League on Tuesday. Ranford is expected to make his NHL debut against the Sharks on the fourth line alongside center Shawn Horcoff and right wing Colton Sceviour.
"I am very lucky to get this opportunity and I am just going to try to enjoy it every day," Ranford said. "I am going to take it day by day and see what happens."
Right wing Ales Hemsky (lower body), who has missed the past two games, is a game-time decision for Ruff. Hemsky was one of the last Dallas players off the ice on Thursday.
"He's close, so we'll see," Ruff said. "He's just trying to get a little extra work in and he hasn't had a lot. But he's better than yesterday, which is a good sign."
Goalie Kari Lehtonen was first off the ice for Dallas and will start his second consecutive game.
Here are the projected lineups:
Melker Karlsson – Joe Thornton – Patrick Marleau
Tommy Wingels – Logan Couture – Joe Pavelski
Matthew Nieto – James Sheppard – Tyler Kennedy
Tomas Hertl – Chris Tierney – Andrew Desjardins
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Justin Braun
Matt Irwin – Scott Hannan
Scratched: Barclay Goodrow, Mirco Mueller, John Scott
Injured: Mike Brown (right leg), Tye McGinn (upper body), Daniil Tarasov (undisclosed), Raffi Torres (knee)
Jamie Benn – Jason Spezza – Erik Cole
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Curtis McKenzie – Vernon Fiddler – Brett Ritchie
Brendan Ranford – Shawn Horcoff – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: David Schlemko
Injured: Patrick Eaves (concussion), Ales Hemsky (lower body), Travis Moen (upper body), Patrik Nemeth (arm), Valeri Nichushkin (hip), Tyler Seguin (knee)
Status report: Scott is likely a healthy scratch for a fourth consecutive game. … Schlemko is likely a healthy scratch for a ninth consecutive game.
Who's hot: Jamie Benn scored his first career hat trick on Tuesday at St. Louis and has a four-game point streak.