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Spezza returns for Stars

Forward will be in lineup vs. Coyotes

by Jerry Brown / NHL.com Correspondent

STARS (37-15-6) at COYOTES (26-24-6)
  
TV: 9 p.m. ET; FS-SW, FS-A, NHL.TV 
  

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Jason Spezza will be in the lineup when the Dallas Stars host the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Thursday. 

Spezza skated at second line right wing spot alongside Antoine Russel and Cody Eakin Thursday morning. The Stars sent Curtis MacKenzie to Texas of the American Hockey League on Wednesday to make room for Spezza who was on injured reserve.

"I'll start on the wing and ease into it," Spezza said. "It gives me a chance to get my timing back. And with [Cody Eakins], we'll kind of both play center. I'll take a lot of draws, too, so things could change pretty quick. 

"An injury is never going to feel 100 percent when you get back. But with an upper body injury, you're lucky because you can keep your legs going. Timing could be an issue, but with upper body, your legs should be pretty good." 

Spezza, who is third on the Stars with 18 goals, has missed the past six games with an upper-body injury. Dallas gone 4-1-1 his absence. 

Patrick Sharp will return to the first line right wing spot alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Benn and Seguin rank second and third in the NHL in scoring with 64 and 63 points respectively. 

Patrick Eaves will drop from the first line to play with Vernon Fiddler and Cotton Sceviour on the fourth line. 

Antti Niemi, who is 15-5-4 with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in his career against Arizona, will start for Dallas. It is the first of three games against the Coyotes; Dallas defeated Arizona three times by a combined 13-4 margin in 2014-15. 

"They have a lot high end skill on their team and they play fast," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. "We have to make sure we're engaged in the game. You have to match the speed but play fast defensively. You can't take penalties and let them used the skill to their advantage." 

Mike Smith is still weeks away from returning from core muscle surgery, and the Coyotes lost goalie Anders Lindback for the rest of the season after he sustained an Achilles tendon injury prior to Arizona's 6-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday. Lindback will have surgery later this week. 

The Coyotes recalled Niklas Treutle from Springfield of the American Hockey League on Tuesday and he will back up Louis Domingue. Each of the two goalies began the season with Springfield. 

Smith has yet to practice with the team but will accompany them on a five-game Eastern road trip that begins Monday against the Washington Capitals. 

"We're hoping to get him back integrated into full practices here the next few days," Tippett said. "The timeframe is hard to say. Once he gets back into full practices, then we'll get a better read on where he's at." 
  
Here are the projected lineups: 

STARS 

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp 

Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Jason Spezza  

Valeri Nichushkin - Mattias Janmark - Ales Hemsky  

Colton Sceviour -- Vernon Fiddler - Patrick Eaves 

Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg  

Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers  

Patrik Nemeth - Jordie Benn  

Antti Niemi 

Kari Lehtonen  

Scratched: Jyrki Jokipakka, Jamie Oleksiak, Radek Faksa  

Injured: Travis Moen (lower body) 

COYOTES 

Jordan Martinook - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker  
  
Max Domi - Martin Hanzal - - Anthony Duclair  
  
Tobias Rieder - Brad Richardson - Shane Doan  
  
Kyle Chipchura - Tyler Gaudet - Viktor Tikhonov  
  
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy  
  
Klas Dahlbeck - Zbynek Michalek  
  
Kevin Connauton - Michael Stone  

Louis Domingue 
  
Niklas Treutle 
  
Injured: Boyd Gordon (upper body), Anders Lindback (Achilles surgery), Mike Smith (abdominal surgery), Joe Vitale (fractured orbital bone) 

Scratched: Nicklas Grossmann, Jarred Tinordi  

Status report: Tikhonov will skate as a 12th forward for Arizona after Tippett opted to go with seven defensemen in the past four games. Grossman will be a scratch for Arizona. 
  
Who's hot: Ekman-Larsson has 10 points (seven assists) in the past six games including three three-point games. … Hanzal has three goals and five points in the past four games. ... Klingberg has two goals and five points in five games.

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