Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff isn't in desperation mode yet, but he put his team through quite a workout Wednesday at Chelsea Piers in New York City in preparation for the New Jersey Devils on Thursday at Prudential Center.
Most notable was the fact Ruff did some major line reshuffling, moving Rich Peverley to the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Valeri Nichushkin, who had been playing on the top line, was placed with Erik Cole and Cody Eakin. Vernon Fiddler centered Ray Whitney and Alex Chiasson, and Shawn Horcoff centered Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt.
"I'd like to move [Fiddler] up again," Ruff told the Stars website. "He was playing so well before he got hurt. I'd like to get him in some combination, so I thought we'd take a look at that. [Peverley] has gone good at the middle of the ice, but sometimes you need a little bit of a shakeup. Eakin and Cole have played well for a good stretch of time, and for [Eakin] I'd like to get him in a more offensive situation."
The changes come at a time when the Stars are reeling. They have allowed 18 goals over three straight losses, including a season-high in a 7-3 loss at the New York Islanders on Monday.
"The mental mistakes looked a lot like the start of the year where we had some big turnovers that led to goals," Ruff said. "It wasn't system stuff, it was just individual errors that really cost us dearly. We've got to clean up those areas."
The Stars hadn't given up 18 goals over a three-game stretch since 1996. Against New York, Dallas was outshot 43-23, outhit 36-15 and lost the faceoff battle 45-27.
Ruff called it his team's worst game of the season.
"You want to see how players respond to adversity," Ruff said. "It's easy when things are going good. I want to see how the guys respond to different situations. We've been a good road team and we've got to dig ourselves out of a hole on the road. We've been fortunate that some teams around us have lost some games, so we're still right there."
The Devils enter the game having lost three straight. Cory Schneider (5-9-5, 2.13 goals-against average, .914 save percentage) will get the start for New Jersey, his first on home ice since Dec. 20 and second since Dec. 6.
According to the The (Bergen) Record, rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas will be back in the lineup after missing the past two games and the Devils will dress seven defensemen. Coach Peter DeBoer said forward Andrei Loktionov will come out of the lineup as a healthy scratch. It is not known whether or not Gelinas will play forward or defense. Gelinas told The Record the last time he played forward was when he was 15. Defenseman Adam Larsson, who hasn't played since Nov. 23 due to a lower-body injury, was assigned to Albany of the American Hockey League.
Jaromir Jagr enters the game tied for seventh on the NHL's all-time goals (with Mark Messier) and points (with Mario Lemieux) lists with 694 goals and 1,723 points. Jagr had an assist in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday but has been without a goal in seven straight games.
Here are the projected line combinations:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Rich Peverley
Erik Cole - Cody Eakin - Valeri Nichushkin
Alex Chiasson - Vernon Fiddler - Ray Whitney
Antoine Roussel - Shawn Horcoff - Ryan Garbutt
Alex Goligoski – Brenden Dillon
Jordie Benn – Sergei Gonchar
Kevin Connauton – Trevor Daley
Scratched: Cameron Gaunce
Injured: Aaron Rome (upper body), Stephane Robidas (leg)
Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier
Reid Boucher – Mike Sislo
Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Marek Zidlicky – Jon Merrill
Anton Volchenkov – Bryce Salvador
Scratched: Cam Janssen, Andrei Loktionov
Injured: Patrik Elias (upper body), Damien Brunner (knee), Peter Harrold (broken foot), Jacob Josefson (illness)