Stars coach Ken Hitchcock is tweaking his lines as the Dallas Stars prepare to play the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at American Airlines Center.
Hitchcock has reunited Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov together on the top line. Mattias Janmark will center Devin Shore and Jason Spezza. Jason Dickinson, who was recalled Monday from the AHL, will draw into the lineup tonight and center Remi Elie and Brett Ritchie. The line of Antoine Roussel, Radek Faksa, and Tyler Pitlick remains intact.
After this morning's skate, Hitchcock discussed his thoughts on the changes.
"We really like Dickinson's game. We would have played him the last game, but there just wasn't enough time to get him up and running with the group," Hitchcock said. "We like what he brings, and we like him at center. And with the unknown factor of when [Martin] Hanzal is going to be with us again, we need Jason up and running. That's number one.
"Number two, we are just going to have to have flexibility throughout our lineup. Tampa has changed their lineup two, three, four, or five times in the last two games. That's just the way it is at this time of year. We are going to have to do the same thing. Jamie has had a good look at center, we like what he's done there, and he can go back at any moment. Janmark is good at center, but if we have to flip there we'll flip. On those top six positions, they only thing you can say consistently right now is that Faksa's line is going to stay the same. Everything else we'll change based on performance and based on the opponent."
Video: Stars ready for tough test at home
As for the status of Hanzal, Hitchcock did provide an update on Thursday, saying that the center is no longer day to day but now week to week with a back injury.
The Stars will roll with the same defensemen as last game. Ben Bishop, coming off a 38-save shutout of Calgary on Tuesday, will get the start in goal. Julius Honka and Gemel Smith are the expected healthy scratches.
The Stars come into tonight's game still in the first wild-card spot in the West. They are two points ahead of ninth-place St. Louis and three points behind Minnesota, which holds third place in the Central Division.
Dallas will face a Tampa Bay team that leads the NHL with 90 points (43-17-4).
"It's a good test for this team," said Bishop. "They are one of the best teams in this league, if not the best team. It's a good measuring stick for us tonight, and we've got to be on our 'A' game."
The Lightning played last night, losing 2-1 in overtime to Buffalo at Amalie Arena in Tampa. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for Tampa Bay. Forward Nikita Kucherov, who missed last night's game with an upper-body injury, skated this morning at American Airlines Center, but his status for tonight is not clear. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, acquired from the New York Rangers at the trade deadline, is not expected to play until next week due to injury. Forward J.T. Miller, also acquired from the Rangers, made his Lightning debut last night. It's not known who will start in goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy played in goal last night, so Louis Domingue could get the nod in net tonight.
Who: Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars Projected Lineup
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Devin Shore - Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza
Remi Elie - Jason Dickinson - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Marc Methot - Stephen Johns
Scratched: Julius Honka, Gemel Smith
Injured: Martin Hanzal (back)
Lightning Projected Lineup
Alex Killorn - Brayden Point - Steven Stamkos
Adam Erne - Tyler Johnson - J.T. Miller
Chris Kunitz - Yanni Gourde - Cory Conacher
Michael Bournival - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Mikhail Sergachev - Dan Girardi
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr
Scratched: Slater Koekkoek, Jake Dotchin
Injured: Nikita Kucherov (upper body), Ondrej Palat (lower body), Ryan McDonagh (upper body), Peter Budaj (lower body)
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.