DALLAS -- When the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars hit the ice at American Airlines Center on Thursday for the first of three meetings this season, each team will do so with several changes to their lineup.
For the Sharks, who at 6-0-0 are one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the NHL along with the Colorado Avalanche, it means Brad Stuart will slide into Dan Boyle's spot on the blue line alongside Matt Irwin.
Stuart, who hasn't played since Oct. 8 against the New York Rangers, has finished serving a three-game suspension for delivering an illegal hit to the head of New York's Rick Nash in that game. He replaces Boyle, who sustained an upper-body injury in the first period of a 6-2 road win against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday after St. Louis' Maxim Lapierre checked him into the boards from behind.
"We would love to have Dan. He means so much to our group but he's not available and we feel good about [Stuart] going in," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Brad needs to play. He's only played one game in the last three or four weeks and he needs the ice time. He needs to get his game going and [we] feel good about playing him."
San Jose also will plug Bracken Kearns, who hasn't played since being recalled from Worcester of the American Hockey League on Oct. 15, in on the fourth line for Matt Pelech. Antti Niemi will start his seventh straight game in goal for the Sharks.
As for Dallas, Stars coach Lindy Ruff said 2013 first-round pick Valeri Nichushkin will return to the ice after sitting out a 3-2 loss Tuesday at Colorado to give the rookie forward winger a breather.
Nichushkin, who has played right wing in each of his first four NHL games, is expected to play on the left side of the Stars' third line, alongside Shawn Horcoff and Erik Cole.
"It's just a look we're going to try," Ruff said. "He's played four games and he's got one shot on net, so we're going to give him a look over there. It doesn't mean he'll stay there. I think it's just a little crowded on the right side."
Dan Ellis will make his third consecutive start in net for Dallas.
Ruff also offered an update on starter Kari Lehtonen, who has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury.
"Kari's progressing," Ruff said. "He's getting better every day and I expect him back in the near future."
Here are Thursday's projected lineups for the Sharks and Stars:
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Tyler Kennedy - Logan Couture - Patrick Marleau
Matthew Nieto - Joe Pavelski - Tommy Wingels
James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Bracken Kearns
Matt Irwin - Brad Stuart
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Scott Hannan - Jason Demers
Scratched: Matt Pelech.
Injured: Dan Boyle (head), Adam Burish (lower body), Marty Havlat (pelvis), Raffi Torres (torn right ACL).
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Rich Peverley
Ray Whitney - Cody Eakin - Alex Chiasson
Valeri Nichushkin - Shawn Horcoff - Erik Cole
Antoine Roussel - Vernon Fiddler - Ryan Garbutt
Alex Goligoski - Sergei Gonchar
Brenden Dillon - Stephane Robidas
Trevor Daley - Jordie Benn
Scratched: Kevin Connauton, Lane MacDermid
Injured: Kari Lehtonen (lower body)