DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars' recent three-game road trip couldn't have gone much better; the Stars beat the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins in the shootout and the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday in overtime.
But Dallas coach Lindy Ruff knows his club faces another big test Saturday night as the reigning NHL Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks visit American Airlines Center for the first time this season.
"I think they're probably one of the best transition teams in the league," Ruff said of Chicago. "They're as good as any team at getting four guys up, sometimes five guys up. When you turn it over, it leads to them going the other way and they've got skill up front."
Kari Lehtonen, who is 5-1-2 with a 2.25 goals-against average since returning from a lower-body injury on Oct. 24 against the Calgary Flames, will start his ninth straight game for Dallas.
Ruff made several changes to his lines during morning skate, putting Rich Peverley alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line and dropping Valeri Nichushkin, the 10th pick in the 2013 NHL Draft who scored his first career goal in the win at Ottawa on Nov. 3, to the third line.
The Stars' defensive pairs also reshuffled a bit. Brenden Dillon and Stephane Robidas remain the top pairing, but Saturday the second pair was Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley, and the No. 3 pairing was Sergei Gonchar and Jordie Benn.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will roll with the same lines he employed in a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday at United Center. That means Sheldon Brookbank, normally a defenseman, will again line up at right wing on Chicago's third line alongside Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw.
"I just thought he did his job pretty well the other day. I don't think it's going to be a long-term thing," Quenneville said.
Blackhawks wing Patrick Kane praised Brookbank for how well he played on the wing against the Jets.
"I think he did a great job last game as far as swinging into guys, taking the puck away and forcing guys to dump the puck, and made some nice chips along the wall and got the puck in," Kane said. "So I'm sure they recognized that and want to give him another shot at it."
Quenneville said he's expecting to see a much different Stars team under Ruff than the Dallas teams the Blackhawks have faced over the past few seasons.
"They're playing a real good game. They're playing a real strong team game. Things are happening quick," Quenneville said. "They pressure you. They're fast. They're quick. They attack well, so I think we've got to be prepared for a team that is not the same team we saw last year for sure."
Here are the projected lineups for the Blackhawks and Stars:
Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad – Brandon Pirri – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Sheldon Brookbank
Brandon Bollig – Marcus Kruger – Ben Smith
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy – Michal Rozsival
Scratched: Jeremy Morin
Injuried: Michal Handzus (upper body), Michael Kostka (lower body), Brad Mills (lower body).
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Rich Peverley
Ray Whitney – Cody Eakin – Alex Chiasson
Ryan Garbutt – Shawn Horcoff – Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Vernon Fiddler – Erik Cole
Brenden Dillon – Stephane Robidas
Alex Goligoski - Trevor Daley
Sergei Gonchar – Jordie Benn
Scratches: Lane MacDermid, Aaron Rome