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Morning Skate: Lehtonen in goal, Ritchie on top line as Stars face Devils

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

With Patrick Sharp out of the lineup due to injury, Brett Ritchie will play on the top line tonight when the Dallas Stars take on the New Jersey Devils at American Airlines Center.

Ritchie, who was called up from the Texas Stars yesterday, skated on a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin this morning at the AAC.

“Good opportunity,” Ritchie said with a smile. “They’re not bad. They’re not too bad.”

Ritchie, who played 31 games for Dallas last season, was considered a strong contender for an NHL roster spot this season, but he injured his wrist before training camp, underwent surgery and didn’t begin playing until early December in the AHL.

“Maybe you could say [the injury] was a little bit of bad timing for me, but everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I knew if I played well down there I would get my shot up here again.”

Ritchie has played well since his return, registering 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 35 games with the Texas Stars.

“If you go back to last year, he was a big, physical guy that was able to hang onto pucks down low,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I thought he had some excellent chances to score, near the end but didn’t finish. But I thought when it came to playing in the opposition zone, the line we had him on there was doing a really good job for us.”

Ruff said he’ll start Ritchie on the top line tonight and go from there.

“I like the way our other lines have played and with Sharp going out, I think I’ll give him a look [with Benn and Seguin] to start the game and if he can handle it, keep him there. If not, I’ve got options of moving Val [Nichushkin] up or even [Ales] Hemsky in that position.”

The defense pairs this morning were the same as Thursday’s practice. Kris Russell skated with John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski skated on the right side with Patrik Nemeth. Johnny Oduya and Jason Demers were the only defense pair to stay intact.

“Just trying to get Goose actually some reps at right D because I feel at some point we may just play five for a while inside of games, so the last two days have just been practice on that side,” Ruff said. “I think the amount of time the five veteran guys have played, it’d be easy to go into a routine of five if the game’s real tight and we feel that that’s our best opportunity to a win game. I just want Goose to be comfortable because I feel like he’s the best guy over there.”

Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice, so it appears he will get the start in goal tonight. Lehtonen is 0-3-1 in his past four starts and hasn’t won since stopping 20 of 23 shots in a 4-3 win over Washington on Feb. 13.

Travis Moen and Jamie Oleksiak are expected to be tonight’s healthy scratches. Sharp (lower body), Patrick Eaves (illness) and Jordie Benn (lower body) are all out.

The Devils did not skate this morning. They played last night in Nashville, rallying for a 5-4 overtime victory over the Predators. Adam Henrique scored with 40 seconds left in regulation to tie the game and then won it with a power play goal in the extra period. Cory Schneider, who served as backup last night, is expected to get the start in goal tonight for New Jersey. He is 26-22-6 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

Who: New Jersey Devils at Dallas Stars

Where: American Airlines Center

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Jamie BennTyler SeguinBrett Ritchie

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaValeri Nichushkin

Antoine RousselCody EakinAles Hemsky

Radek FaksaVernon FiddlerColton Sceviour

Kris Russell
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Patrik NemethAlex Goligoski

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Patrick Sharp (lower body), Patrick Eaves (illness), Jordie Benn (lower body)

Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Travis Moen

Reid Boucher – Adam Henrique – Devante Smith-Pelly

Sergey Kalinin – Travis Zajac – Kyle Palmieri

Joseph Blandisi – Jacob Josefson – Tyler Kennedy

Bobby Farnham – Stephen Gionta – Jordin Tootoo

Andy Greene – Adam Larsson

John Moore – David Schlemko

Jon Merrill – Damon Severson

Cory Schneider

Keith Kinkaid

Injured: Michael Cammalleri (upper body), Patrik Elias (knee), Jiri Tlusty (wrist)

Scratched: Tuomo Ruutu, David Warsofsky

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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