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At the Rink: Stars at Sharks

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE-- Dallas Stars goaltender Antti Niemi will have a homecoming when he starts against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CA, FS-SW) for the first time since being traded after last season.

Niemi, who was traded to the Stars on June 27 and signed a three-year contract, made 26 saves in a 5-3 victory against San Jose on Oct. 31 at American Airlines Center. Now he'll try to beat them at SAP Center, where he had success the past five seasons.

"It's been a while, being on this side of the building," said Niemi, who played for the Chicago Blackhawks for parts of two seasons before signing with San Jose as a free agent in 2010. "Hard to find the locker room, first of all.

"I think it's something I'm going to have fun with today for sure, knowing most of their players, maybe giving some feedback on the ice or getting some feedback from them. I'm sure it's going to be fun."

Niemi went 163-92-35 with a 2.40 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and 25 shutouts with the Sharks. He's 16-8-4 with a 2.41 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 29 games for Dallas.

Some of his former teammates discussed how they can get pucks past him.

"Shoot, get traffic, get it upstairs on the rebounds," said Sharks center Logan Couture, who was out with an injury when San Jose faced Niemi in Dallas. "He's got powerful legs, quick legs, covers the bottom of the net pretty well. So get it upstairs. I've got some spots picked out if I get a chance on him. Hopefully that helps."

The Stars (29-12-4) are second in the Central Division with 62 points, two behind Chicago. But they've gone 1-4-0 in their past five games and are coming off a 4-2 loss Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center. Kari Lehtonen gave up four first-period goals against the Ducks and will back in Niemi.

Niemi has gone 0-2-0 during the Stars mini-slump, allowing eight goals on 54 shots, but has been solid for most of the season.

"He's doing great," said Stars defenseman Jason Demers, another former Shark. "It's nice to have an old Sharks alum with us. He's been doing great. I think the tandem of him and Kari have really been playing solid. They've helped us a lot this year and especially at times when we've given up some chances. They've been rock solid. It's worked out well for us.

"I think we just have to give a little bit better showing in front of them. We're not giving them much of a chance to help us win. It's stuff that we've got to clean up in our own end."

The Sharks (22-18-2) have won four straight games, outscoring their opponents 18-6, but coach Peter DeBoer said he knows better than to underestimate the Stars.

"We're going to see their best game tonight," DeBoer said. "There's no doubt after a game like that [on Friday]. That's pretty much par for the course around the league, for the most part. We know that, and it will be a great test for us.

"They're going to be a real dangerous team here tonight. We know what we're dealing with. I'd rather have a team come in here winning than losing. They can score goals in bunches."

Here are the projected lineups:


Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp

Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Ales Hemsky

Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Valeri Nichushkin

Travis Moen - Vernon Fiddler - Patrick Eaves

Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers

Patrik Nemeth - Jordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Injured: None

Scratched: Colton Sceviour, Jyrki Jokipakka


Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Matt Nieto - Patrick Marleau - Joel Ward

Joonas Donskoi - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels

Melker Karlsson - Chris Tierney - Mike Brown

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Paul Martin - Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon - Dylan DeMelo

Martin Jones

Alex Stalock

Injured: Dainius Zubrus (upper body)

Scratched: Ben Smith, Matt Tennyson

Status report: Nemeth will be in the lineup for the 10th game this season and replace Jokipakka. ... Eaves, who was a healthy scratch against Anaheim, will return to the lineup, replacing Sceviour. ... Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak was sent to the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League on a conditioning assignment. He has two assists in 11 games for the Stars. "With eight [defensemen] right now, the best thing is for him to go get some valuable playing time," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. ... Jones will start for the 10th time in the past 11 games.

Who's hot: Thornton has a four-game point streak (two goals and four assists). He has at least one point in 12 of his past 13 games. ... Burns has a point in 10 of his past 12 games. With 40 points, he ranks second among NHL defensemen. ... Jamie Benn has a goal in two straight games. He ranks second in the NHL with 54 points, 13 behind the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane and three ahead of Seguin.

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