There was a buzz at this morning's skate at American Airlines Center. Not so much on the ice, but off it. Dallas Stars play-by-play man Dave Strader was in the building preparing to call his first game of the season. He has been out all season as he undergoes treatment for bile duct cancer. He'll call tonight's game against the Lightning and then the four games after the Stars bye week, all of them at home.
"It's indescribable as far as the level of excitement I feel," Strader said of his return to the broadcast booth. "There were quite a few times I thought I would never do another game."
Strader, who was diagnosed with the cancer in June, was back in his usual routine this morning, watching the pregame skate and taking notes, talking to players and coaches. Those were among the things he missed the most while away from the rink.
"I've missed all the little things," Strader said. "Obviously, I've missed doing the games, executing the game plan we put together with the production staff. You miss the people and being around everybody that is a part of your everyday routine."
The team was excited to have Strader back.
"It's awesome," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "It puts a smile on everybody's face."
As for tonight's game, Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars, so it appears he will make his second straight start.
Defenseman Stephen Johns did not skate this morning and will miss a second straight game due to illness.
"He's got the flu," Ruff said. "He won't be available. He won't even be here today."
With Johns out, the Stars will go with the same six defensemen as last game.
At forward, it's not clear what the Stars will do tonight. Jiri Hudler skated late, so he is expected to be one of the scratches. The other scratch appears to be up in the air since the rest of the forwards came off the ice at about the same time.
The Stars (22-27-10) are coming off a 0-3-0 road trip. They will play tonight's game, and then get their five-day "bye week."
"We played hard on the road trip," Ruff said. "I asked them to do certain things. We did certain things. We made some mistakes but we've got to continue to do the right things, we've got to put the puck in the right place and manage the puck a little bit better. We've missed some empty nets. It's going to be a matter of executing when the play is there and managing the puck well against these guys, who are a good team with good speed."
Andrei Vasilevskiy was the first goaltender off the ice for Tampa Bay this morning, so he is expected to get the start in goal tonight. He is 11-12-4 with a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. Forward Jonathan Drouin did not skate this morning because he is ill. He is a game time decision. Forward Tyler Johnson, who has been out with a lower-body injury, skated this morning and is expected to play. The Lightning recalled Cory Conacher from the AHL. The Lightning (25-24-7) are coming off their bye week. NHL teams are 3-9-2 in their first game back from the bye week this season.
Who: Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars Projected Lineup
Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves
Devin Shore - Jason Spezza - Tyler Seguin
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp
Lauri Korpikoski/Curtis McKenzie - Adam Cracknell - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth - Jamie Oleksiak
Scratched: Jiri Hudler
Injured: Stephen Johns (illness), Johnny Oduya (ankle), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)
Lightning Projected Lineup
Vladislav Namestnikov - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Brayden Point - Cory Conacher
Ondrej Palat - Valtteri Filppula - Brian Boyle
Cedric Paquette - Gabriel Dumont - J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr
Scratched: Luke Witkowski
Injured: Jonathan Drouin (illness), Steven Stamkos (knee), Ryan Callahan (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 Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.