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Morning skate: Lineups, notes for Stars vs. Canucks

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Antti Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice for the Dallas Stars this morning, so it appears he will get the start tonight against the Vancouver Canucks at American Airlines Center.

It will be the second straight start for Niemi, who is coming off a 17-save effort in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Anaheim. Niemi is 4-1-0 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.

No changes are expected in the forward lines. They should be the same as Wednesday’s practice and the same combinations coach Lindy Ruff switched to in the second period with the Stars down 3-0 to Anaheim.

There will be one change on defense. Jason Demers will be back in the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for elbowing Pittsburgh’s Nick Bonino. Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth will be the scratches on defense.

The Stars spent a good part of Thursday’s skate working on the penalty kill. The Stars come into tonight’s game ranked fourth in the league on the penalty kill at 88.5 percent. They have not allowed a power-play goal in seven of their nine games.

“We split the groups up into just penalty killers and put the other guys in a different color just to go over some of our PK routes,” Ruff said. “We want to continue to try to improve in that area because I think it really has to be a difference maker for us. So if we don’t get to it in between games, we’re going to get to it on gamedays sometimes.”

The Stars, who are playing the third game of a four-game homestand are coming off that 4-3 win over Anaheim Tuesday that saw them overcome a 3-0 deficit.

“For us, I think it was very important,” Stars defenseman John Klingberg said. “To be down 3-0 after the first period and come back to win is very important for us when we are playing four games at home.”

The Stars will play a Canucks team that is coming off an impressive 5-1 win over Montreal in Vancouver that snapped the Canadiens’ nine-game winning streak. The Canucks come into the game 3-0-0 on the road.

“Their penalty killing’s been really good on the road. I think they’re a little bit younger. They’ve got some good speed; they have a lot of faceoff plays you’ve got to be aware of,” Ruff said. “And you can always mention the two Sedins. [Radim] Vrbata for me is a really good goal scorer when you get him anywhere in tight and [Brandon] Sutter, he’s had a nice start for them.”

The Stars have won seven straight games against the Canucks.

Ryan Miller will get the start in goal tonight for the Canucks. Miller, who is 4-2-3 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, has started every game for the Canucks this season.

With forward Brandon Prust out with an ankle injury, Brendan Gaunce is expected to make his NHL debut tonight. Matt Bartkowski will come in on defense for the injured Dan Hamhuis (lower body).

Willie Desjardins is in his second season as head coach of the Canucks. He was associate head coach of the Dallas Stars for two seasons (2010-12) and then head coach of the Texas Stars, leading them to the AHL championship in 2014.

“Dallas was good to me. I started here, so I always find it’s a special place,” Desjardins said. “I know lots of the players. A lot of the players, we battled together, and I’ve seen a lot of the Stars when they were young too, so there’s always something special here. I like the players on this team. There are lots of good players and with great character, so I have a lot of respect for them.”

Who: Vancouver Canucks 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 BennCody EakinTyler Seguin

Valeri NichushkinJason SpezzaPatrick Sharp

Antoine RousselVernon FiddlerColton Sceviour

Mattias JanmarkRadek FaksaAles Hemsky

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaJordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak

Injured: Patrick Eaves (lower body), Travis Moen (upper body), Curtis McKenzie (hip)

Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Radim Vrbata

Sven Baertschi – Bo Horvat – Jannik Hansen

Alexandre Burrows – Brandon Sutter – Jake Virtanen

Brendan Gaunce – Jared McCann – Derek Dorsett

Alexander Edler – Chris Tanev

Ben Hutton – Yannick Weber

Luca Sbisa - Matt Bartkowski

Ryan Miller

Richard Bachman

Injured: Dan Hamhuis (lower body), Chris Higgins (foot), Jacob Markstrom (lower body), Brandon Prust (ankle).

Scratched: Alex Biega, Adam Cracknell.

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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