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Stars give Niemi opening night start vs. Penguins

by Steve Hunt

PENGUINS (0-0-0) at STARS (0-0-0)


DALLAS -- For the first time since 2009, someone other than Kari Lehtonen will be the starting goaltender on opening night for the Dallas Stars.

Antti Niemi was first off the ice after the morning skate and will start for Dallas on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at American Airlines Center, but Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he doesn't feel there's any sort of goalie controversy.

"I thought [Niemi's] preseason was pretty good," Ruff said. "We know we're going to use both goaltenders. So for me, Antti is the guy that gets the nod (to open the season)."

Niemi was added by Dallas along with defenseman Johnny Oduya and left wing Patrick Sharp during the offseason. Oduya will skate with Jason Demers on the Stars second defensive pair, and Sharp will play right wing on the second line alongside left wing Valeri Nichushkin and center Jason Spezza.

Center Mattias Janmark, who came over from the Detroit Red Wings on March 1 in the trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit, will make his NHL debut. Janmark will center a line with left wing Antoine Roussel and right wing Ales Hemsky.

Ruff had center Cody Eakin on the top line at the morning skate with left wing Jamie Benn with Tyler Seguin on the right. Ruff has used similar lines in practice the past few days.

"It's an option that we use in practice and want to look at," Ruff said. "There's no guarantee tonight Eakin's going to play in the middle, but I wanted Tyler on the wing a little bit and he might be right back in the middle tonight."

This game will mark the Pittsburgh debut for right wing Phil Kessel, who will skate on the top line with left wing Chris Kunitz and center and captain Sidney Crosby.

Penguins coach Mike Johnston likes what Kessel has done thus far alongside Kunitz and Crosby but knows developing chemistry with them will take time.

"Those three played together three games, and I think they're starting to get some chemistry," Johnston said. "It probably always takes a couple weeks for new player to get ingrained with the team and new linemates, different style of play maybe from what he's used to, but Phil's been great so far. I thought so far they've had really good chemistry."

Right wing Daniel Sprong will make his NHL debut on the fourth line with left wing Bobby Farnham and center Matt Cullen. Crosby offered Sprong some simple advice heading into his debut.

"[Sprong] had his gear on I think 20 minutes before the morning skate this morning, so I think he's pretty excited," Crosby said. "We've all been there. It's a pretty cool feeling and pretty cool to see as a teammate."

Marc-Andre Fleury was first off the ice for the Penguins at morning skate and will start in goal.

Here are the projected lineups:


Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyPhil Kessel

Sergei PlotnikovEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Beau BennettNick BoninoDavid Perron

Bobby FarnhamMatt CullenDaniel Sprong

Ian ColeKris Letang

Olli MaattaBen Lovejoy

Rob ScuderiBrian Dumoulin

Marc-Andre Fleury

Jeff Zatkoff

Injured: Pascal Dupuis (lower body), Eric Fehr (elbow)

Scratched: Adam Clendening, Tim Erixon, Oskar Sundqvist


Jamie BennCody EakinTyler Seguin

Valeri NichushkinJason SpezzaPatrick Sharp

Travis MoenVernon FiddlerPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselMattias JanmarkAles Hemsky

Alex GoligoskiJohn Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaJordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Injured: Jack Campbell (hand)

Scratched: Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Colton Sceviour

Status report: Hemsky and Sceviour have been splitting time on the fourth line this week in practice but Ruff opted to go with Hemsky to open the season with Sceviour scratched.

Who's hot: Fleury is 6-3-0 with a 2.19 goals-against-average against Dallas. … The Stars are 14-3-4 in home openers since relocating to Dallas in 1993.

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