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Morning Skate: Niemi in goal as Stars close out road trip vs. Penguins

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars will look to make it four-for-four on their road trip and five straight wins overall when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center tonight.

Antti Niemi, who stopped 37 shots in shutting out the Penguins on opening night in Dallas, is expected to get the start in goal tonight for the Stars. Niemi is coming off a solid 34-save effort in Tuesday’s 2-1 win in Philadelphia.

“He makes those big saves when you need them,” said Stars center Vernon Fiddler. “He goes in the net and battles really hard. I think our goalies have been great.”

With Niemi and Kari Lehtonen sharing the net, the Stars are tied for tenth in the league in goals-against average at 2.33 per game and they rank 12th in team save percentage at .925.

It looks as though Stars coach Lindy Ruff will juggle his lines for tonight’s game. The top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp will stay together, but Mattias Janmark skated on the second line with Jason Spezza and Valeri Nichushkin this morning. Antoine Roussel moved onto a line with Cody Eakin and Ales Hemsky. Fiddler, who had been on the second line, skated on the left wing with center Radek Faksa and right wing Colton Sceviour.

“For me, Eakin and Roussel have always played well together. With Matty, I can move him up, I can move him back. Fidds has a good spot with Faksa, and that gives me more of a grind line,” Ruff said. “It’s an opportunity to move guys around and at this time of year take a look at some guys in different places.”

The defense pairs are expected to stay the same. Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth both will sit out as healthy scratches for a seventh consecutive game to start the season.

“It is [tough to get in],” Ruff said. “Like I said, there is that competition to stay in, and I think our defense, for the most part, has played very well.”

Tonight’s game wraps up a four-game road trip for the Stars, who have won the first three games over Tampa Bay, Florida and Philadelphia.

McKenzie out 2-3 weeks

Stars forward Curtis McKenzie is expected to miss 2-3 weeks with a lower-body injury, according to Stars GM Jim Nill.

McKenzie was injured last Thursday when he was hit from behind and slammed into the boards by Tampa Bay defenseman Nikita Nesterov. The NHL suspended Nesterov two games for the hit.

Penguins watch

Forward Pascal Dupuis will return to the lineup tonight for the Penguins. It will be the first regular-season game since November 15, 2015 for Dupuis, who has been out this season with a lower-body injury and missed most of last season with a blood clot issue.

“I am feeling great, got the OK to go tonight,” Dupuis said. “I am pretty excited.”

“He’s a guy with a lot of energy,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. I’m going to manage his minutes, even if he’s having a great game I’m still going to try and manage his minutes. He hasn’t played a lot. I don’t want anything injury-wise to keep going.”

Forward Daniel Sprong, who missed the last game due to visa issues, is available to play but won’t because he has missed the past couple practices.

Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start in goal for the Penguins, who have won three straight games after starting the season 0-3-0 including a loss to the Stars on opening night.

Thursdays’ game

Who: Dallas Stars at Pittsburgh Penguins

Where: CONSOL Energy Center

When: 6:00 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Stars projected lineup

Jamie BennTyler SeguinPatrick Sharp

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaValeri Nichushkin

Antoine RousselCody EakinAles Hemsky

Vernon FiddlerRadek FaksaColton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Jason DemersJohnny Oduya

Jyrki JokipakkaJordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth

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

Penguins projected lineup

Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Phil Kessel

David Perron – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist

Sergei Plotnikov – Nick Bonino – Pascal Dupuis

Bobby Farnham – Matt Cullen – Kevin Porter

Ian Cole – Kris Letang

Olli Maatta – Ben Lovejoy

Brian Dumoulin – Rob Scuderi

Marc-Andre Fleury

Jeff Zatkoff

Scratched: Adam Clendening, Bryan Rust, Daniel Sprong

Injured: Eric Fehr (elbow), Beau Bennett (undisclosed)

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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