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Morning Skate: Niemi expected in goal as Stars face Jets

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Antti Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice for the Dallas Stars this morning in Winnipeg, indicating that he will get the start in goal tonight against the Jets as the NHL resumes play out of the All-Star break.

It will be the fourth straight start for Niemi, tying his longest stretch of consecutive starts this season. He started four straight from Oct. 27 to Nov. 2 as well.

Stars defenseman Jordie Benn will miss a fifth straight game. Benn, who has been out with a lower-body injury, is healthy but could use some more practice time before getting into a game.

So, Jamie Oleksiak will be in on defense. Oleksiak has just returned to the NHL after a conditioning stint in the AHL, where he played eight games over two weeks.

“I feel he is in the right spot now, he has played a lot of games,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of Oleksiak. “We are going to evaluate where he is at. Tonight is as good a time because he has been playing. Yesterday in practice he looked as good as anybody.”

Oleksiak is expected to skate on the third pair with Jyrki Jokipakka tonight.

As for Jordie Benn, he could play Thursday in Colorado.

“Jordie, for me, looked apprehensive yesterday [in practice],” Ruff said. “I talked to him today, and I just feel he needs a couple more really good practices. We’ll probably get him back in Colorado.”

As for the forwards, tonight’s top line is expected to be Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp. The second line likely will have Jason Spezza centering Mattias Janmark and Patrik Eaves.

Travis Moen is the expected scratch at forward. Patrik Nemeth will be a healthy scratch on defense.

The Stars come out of the break three points behind Chicago in the race for first place in the Central Division and first overall in the Western Conference. The Stars have three games in hand on Chicago. Dallas will be looking to bounce back from a rough month of January that saw them go 3-6-2.

“This time of the year it is all out desperation because every game is either a big win or every game is a big loss,” Ruff said. “We have a few games in hand, and we are trying to get up there and finish first. We didn’t have a real good January, so we are looking to put that behind us and move ahead.”

Connor Hellebuyck will get the start in goal tonight for the Jets. The rookie netminder is 12-9-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. Forwards Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry will come off injured reserve and play tonight. The Jets (22-24-3) enter tonight’s game nine points out of a playoff spot with 33 games left on their schedule.

“You realize there’s not a lot of time left. The last couple of months go by really fast. The standings are tight, and everyone wants to get themselves in a good position,” Jets forward Bryan Little told the team’s official site. “The hockey definitely picks up, the pace picks up, and for a lot of teams including us, it’s almost like playoff hockey right now.”

Who: Dallas Stars at Winnipeg Jets

Where: MTS Centre

When: 7:00 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Jamie BennTyler SeguinPatrick Sharp

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselCody EakinAles Hemsky

Valeri NichushkinVernon FiddlerColton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaJamie Oleksiak

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Jordie Benn, Travis Moen, Patrik Nemeth

Injured: None

Nikolaj Ehlers – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler

Mathieu Perreault – Bryan Little – Drew Stafford

Andrew Ladd – Adam Lowry – Alexander Burmistrov

Chris Thorburn – Andrew Copp – Joel Armia

Jacob Trouba – Dustin Byfuglien

Toby Enstrom – Tyler Myers

Mark Stuart – Ben Chiarot

Connor Hellebuyck

Michael Hutchinson

Injured: Ondrej Pavelec (knee), Grant Clitsome (back)

Scratched: Anthony Peluso, Adam Pardy, Paul Postma

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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