Jamie Benn will return to the lineup tonight when the Dallas Stars take on the Detroit Red Wings at American Airlines Center. The Dallas captain has missed the past four games due to a foot injury.
Benn skated with the team on the recent road trip and was back on the ice at this morning's skate at the AAC. This is the first time Benn has missed NHL regular season games due to injury since March 2013 when he missed two games with a wrist injury.
"It was tough. It was different," Benn said. "I learned a thing or two from watching up top, and I tried to help these guys out the last four games, but it is definitely nice to be back."
Benn was injured in the New Year's Eve game against Florida. The Stars went 1-2-1 without him in the lineup.
"We missed him," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "And getting him back, he's a voice in the room for us, and he can be a difference maker."
Forward Patrick Eaves, who left Tuesday's game in Anaheim after being checked into an open door at the bench, skated this morning and is good to go for tonight's game.
The news is not so good on defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who left Tuesday's game with a hand injury. He is going to be out a while.
"It looks like it is going to be a couple weeks at a minimum," Ruff said. "It's a hand injury. We'll have further details coming up probably."
Video: Benn feeling ready to go against Detroit
With Oleksiak out and Patrik Nemeth in the AHL on a conditioning assignment, Stephen Johns will draw back into the lineup. Johns has been a healthy scratch in six of the past seven games.
"Just hoping for solid play," Ruff said of Johns. "I've been emphasizing that you've got to use your legs. I want him skating. I want his feet moving. I think it is his greatest tool."
Ruff said he is considering juggling his defense pairs to put Johns back with Johnny Oduya, his partner late last season and early this season.
"It's a possibility. We may even do that tonight," Ruff said. "[Dan] Hamhuis and Jordie Benn have played well together, and now with Oleksiak out, [Hamhuis] is a guy [Johns] can go back with."
Antti Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars this morning, so he is expected to make his second straight start. He was sharp in Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Anaheim, stopping 36 of 38 shots. Niemi is 7-3-2 at home with a 2.15 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
The Stars come into tonight's game with four losses in their past five games (1-3-1). They are 17-17-8 on the season and in 12th place in the Western Conference, but still just two points out of a playoff spot with 40 games remaining.
"We're confident," Jamie Benn said. "We know if we play the right way and we bring it every night, we can win each and every night. There's no doubt in here. We all know what we have to do to get into the playoffs and it's up to do it now."
Special Teams Battle
Special teams could be an area to keep an eye on tonight. The Stars' penalty kill has been struggling recently, and it's been the same for Detroit's power play.
The Red Wings are 0-15 on the power play over the past six games and 1-43 over the past 13 games. They rank last in the league on the power play at 11.1 percent (15-135). They rank last in the league on the road 3.3 percent, scoring just two goals on 60 opportunities.
The Stars have allowed nine power-play goals in their past five games and are 6-15 (40.0 percent) on the penalty kill during that stretch. The Stars rank 29th in the league in penalty killing at 74.3 percent, allowing 36 goals on 140 shorthanded opportunities.
Red Wings Watch
Petr Mrazek will get the start in goal for the Red Wings. He is 9-10-4 this season with a 3.14 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. Detroit (17-18-6) is 1-2-2 in its past five games and 4-7-3 over the past 14.
Who: Detroit Red Wings at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest Plus
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars Projected Lineup
Jamie Benn - Jason Spezza - Tyler Seguin
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves
Jiri Hudler - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp
Lauri Korpikoski - Devin Shore - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns
Dan Hamhuis - Jordie Benn
Scratched: Adam Cracknell, Curtis McKenzie
Conditioning: Patrik Nemeth
Injured: Jamie Oleksiak (hand), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)
Red Wings Projected Lineup
Gustav Nyquist - Henrik Zetterberg - Anthony Mantha
Andreas Athanasiou - Frans Nielsen - Thomas Vanek
Tomas Tatar - Dylan Larkin - Justin Abdelkader
Drew Miller - Riley Sheahan - Luke Glendening
Danny DeKeyser - Mike Green
Jonathan Ericsson - Alexei Marchenko
Xavier Ouellet - Nick Jensen
Scratched: Ryan Sproul, Tomas Jurco, Steve Ott
Injured: Darren Helm (shoulder), Niklas Kronwall (lower body), Brendan Smith (knee), Jimmy Howard (knee)
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 Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.