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Morning Skate: Niemi in goal as Stars look to solve Coyotes

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars are expected to make one lineup change for tonight’s game against the Arizona Coyotes at American Airlines Center. Antti Niemi will be back in goal, making his second start in the past three games.

Niemi is coming off a solid performance in the 4-2 win in San Jose on Saturday, stopping 34 of 36 shots against his former team.

“I thought he was rock solid,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of Niemi’s performance in San Jose. “He played a heck of a game; he stood tall. For me, he looked real sharp.”

The Stars are not expected to make any changes at forward or defense. The line combinations and defense pairs are expected to be the same. Travis Moen and Jamie Oleksiak will be healthy scratches. Kris Russell, Brett Ritchie, Tyler Seguin and Jason Demers all remain out due to injury.

Tonight’s game will be the third and final meeting between the Stars and Coyotes. The Coyotes have won the first two games, both of them played in Arizona.

“Offensively, we haven’t got the job done against them and defensively we’ve had some breakdowns that have hurt us,” Ruff said. “It’s a combination of both, finishing off some of the opportunities that we get. Both their goaltenders have been very good. This could likely be a 2-1 kind of contest tonight.”

Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski sees a different Coyotes team than in past years.

“They work hard defensively. Offensively, they maybe try things a little more maybe than they did in the past,” Goligoski said. “They’re not afraid to get pucks in the middle of the ice and get them into those kind of danger zones without really looking or knowing someone’s there. They’re just trying to put pucks to spots where something could happen for them. I think they’re a little different in that sense but they play a tight defensive game, and they have a fast team, so we’re going to have to play to our strengths, possess the puck and play fast and get it behind them. They’ve had our number a little bit, so a good test for us.”

The Stars (46-22-9) come into tonight’s game tied with St. Louis atop the Central Division and Western Conference. The Stars are in first place due to their 44-41 edge in the regulation/overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker.

While the Stars are in a fight for a division title and home ice throughout the Western Conference playoffs, they are trying to get their game in order for the playoffs over these final five games of the regular season as well.

“I think we’ve played well. We’ve found ways to win games,” Ruff said. “I think that we’ve played some desperate teams that there’s been different types of emotion inside the games, there’s been a lot of physicality. I like where our team is at. I think there’s areas where we can continue to work on. There’s areas that I give other teams some credit for putting pressure on us, but I think the last five is more about what we do than anything the other team is doing.”

Mike Smith will get the start in goal tonight. Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who missed the team’s last game due to an injury, skated this morning and it appears he’ll play tonight. The Coyotes are coming off a 5-2 loss to Calgary Monday, but they have won six of their past nine games (6-3-0).

Who: Arizona Coyotes 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 EakinPatrick Sharp

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaValeri Nichushkin

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaAles Hemsky

Colton SceviourVernon FiddlerPatrick Eaves

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaStephen Johns

Patrik NemethJordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Kris Russell (lower body), Brett Ritchie (lower body), Tyler Seguin (Achilles), Jason Demers (shoulder)

Scratched: Travis Moen, Jamie Oleksiak

Max Domi – Martin Hanzal – Anthony Duclair

Tobias Rieder – Antoine Vermette – Alex Tanguay

Jordan Martinook – Brad Richardson – Shane Doan

Kyle Chipchura – Boyd Gordon – Sergei Plotnikov

Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Connor Murphy

Kevin Connauton – Zbynek Michalek

Klas Dahlbeck – Alex Grant

Mike Smith

Louis Domingue

Anders Lindback (Achilles), Michael Stone (knee)

Scratched: Nicklas Grossmann, Jiri Sekac, Eric Selleck, Viktor Tikhonov

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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