After sitting out the first seven games as healthy scratches, Stars defensemen Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Dallas Stars take on the Florida Panthers at American Airlines Center.
With Jason Demers serving the first game of a two-game suspension tonight, there was an opening on the blue line and Stars coach Lindy Ruff decided to bring in both Nemeth and Oleksiak.
“We’ve spent every day talking about trying to utilize all our defensemen and even after the game in Pittsburgh, [GM} Jim [Nill] and I had a conversation, thoughts what I’d do next game,” Ruff said. “With eight [defensemen] it’s tough and I think at some point you lose the two guys that aren’t playing if you don’t get them in the lineup. I think they’re good enough to play. I’ve got to do a better job of utilizing them as players.”
Jordie Benn will move up to take Demers’ spot on the second pair with Johnny Oduya. Jyrki Jokipakka skated late this morning and is the expected healthy scratch on defense. Nemeth and Oleksiak will skate together as the third pair.
“I’ve told them that they’re going to get an opportunity and if they’re prepared, they’ll be able to succeed and make my next decision a tough one, so for now it’s up to them to go in and play well,” Ruff said.
The first couple weeks of the season haven’t been easy on Nemeth and Oleksiak. Neither has played since the preseason and they’ve tried to make the best of their practice time.
“It’s tough but you try to focus on the day at hand, treat practices as the game and an opportunity to work and get better,” Oleksiak said. “Just making sure that when I get a chance I’ll be ready when I go in.”
“It’s been really tough,” said Nemeth. “When you haven’t played for seven games and for three weeks, you want to try to get into the groove as fast as you can. … I want to try not to think too much and play simple.”
Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice this morning, so he is the expected starter tonight. Lehtonen, who stopped 24 shots in a 4-2 win over Florida last Saturday, is 3-0-0 this season with a 2.35 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
The Stars are expected to roll out the same forward lines they used in Thursday’s 4-1 win at Pittsburgh.
The Stars come into tonight’s game riding a five-game winning streak and they are coming off an impressive 4-0-0 road trip that included wins over Tampa Bay, Florida, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Tonight’s game begins a four-game homestand.
“It’s nice to be home. This is a place where we want to have success this year,” said center Jason Spezza. “This is a big game for us. It’s always a bit of a test coming off a long road trip like that. We have to be ready to go tonight.”
Panthers watch: Barkov out, Montoya in goal
The Florida Panthers will be without top center Aleksander Barkov, who suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot in Thursday’s game at Chicago. Al Montoya was the first goaltender off the ice for the Panthers this morning, so he is the expected starter tonight. This will be Montoya’s second start of the season. He stopped 22 of 23 shots in a 4-1 win over Carolina on Oct. 13. The former Texas Tornado netminder is 1-2-0 vs. Dallas with a 1.95 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
Who: Florida Panthers 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 – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ales Hemsky
Vernon Fiddler – Radek Faksa – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth – Jamie Oleksiak
Suspended: Jason Demers
Scratched: Jyrki Jokipakka
Injured: Travis Moen (upper body), Patrick Eaves (lower body), Curtis McKenzie (hip)
Panthers projected lineup
Jonathan Huberdeau – Nick Bjugstad – Jaromir Jagr
Brandon Pirri – Dave Bolland – Reilly Smith
Jussi Jokinen – Derek MacKenzie – Quinton Howden
Shawn Thornton – Vincent Trocheck - Connor Brickley
Brian Campbell – Aaron Ekblad
Willie Mitchell – Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov – Alex Petrovic
Injured: Aleksander Barkov (upper body)
Scratched: Steven Kampfer, Dylan Olsen
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 DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.