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Morning skate: Niemi in goal, Demers returns vs. Flyers

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

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

Niemi got the win Tuesday when the Stars topped Carolina, 6-5. Niemi took over for Kari Lehtonen with 6:43 remaining in the third period with the game tied 5-5 and did not face a shot. Niemi is 11-4-2 this season with a 2.55 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. He stopped 34 of 35 shots in the Stars’ 2-1 win at Philadelphia on Oct. 20.

Defenseman Jason Demers will return tonight after missing the past three-games with an upper-body injury. He is expected to be in his usual spot – on the right side of the second pair with Johnny Oduya.

“That pair of Oduya/Demers have been a pretty solid pair,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “[Demers] just adds that veteran experience and puck-moving ability with a lefty and a righty.”

Demers has missed six games this season – two due to suspension and four due to injuries. The Stars are 3-2-1 in those games, including a 6-2 loss to Florida and a 7-4 loss to Ottawa. Ruff said the Stars haven’t been the same when John Klingberg is the only right-handed shot on defense.

“You probably get tired of hearing me talk about that left-right option. When we have the two sets of lefties out there our puck movement isn’t as good,” Ruff said. “It’s shown up in all the games where [Demers] hasn’t played. There’s a reason teams like having the lefty-righty combination. When you are under that much duress, when you are on your forehand you can still make plays. If you are on your backhand things are tougher.”

Also coming back in on defense is Jyrki Jokipakka, who has been a healthy scratch the past three games. Jokipakka is expected to skate on the third pair with Jordie Benn. Jokipakka hasn’t played since a rough game in the Stars’ 4-3 shootout loss at Calgary on Dec. 1.

“[I’m looking] for the same play he had before his game in Calgary where he really struggled,” Ruff said. “He was moving his feet; his gap was real good. The one thing I thought was bad last game was our gap between them leaving the zone and our defensemen and part of that is the tracking by our forwards, but part of that is just D getting up making sure that they’re setting a real tight gap.”

The Stars will take on a Philadelphia team that has turned things around lately. The Flyers, who won last night in St. Louis, are 5-1-1 in their past seven games.

“They’re a team on the rise,” Ruff said. “Obviously, they’ve won four straight on the road. [Claude] Giroux is probably at the forefront of what goes on with that team, but they played a solid game last night in St. Louis. Their power play is always dangerous, and I believe if we can stay away from some of those situations, we’re going in the right direction, but I think we’re going to have our hands full tonight.”

Only a handful of Flyers skated this morning. Philadelphia played last night in St. Louis, topping the Blues 4-2. It was the fourth straight road win for the Flyers and their fifth win in the past seven games overall (5-1-1). It’s not clear if Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 35 shots in last night’s victory, or Steve Mason will get the start in goal tonight against the Stars.

Who: Philadelphia Flyers 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 BennTyler SeguinValeri Nichushkin

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselCody EakinPatrick Sharp

Colton SceviourVernon FiddlerAles Hemsky

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaJordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Travis Moen, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak

Injured: None

Michael Raffl – Claude Giroux – Brayden Schenn

Matt Read – Sean Couturier – Wayne Simmonds

Chris VandeVelde – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Jakub Voracek

R.J. Umberger – Scott Laughton – Ryan White

Michael Del Zotto – Radko Gudas

Nick Schultz – Evgeny Medvedev

Brandon Manning – Shayne Gostisbehere

Steve Mason

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Vincent Lecavalier, Andrew MacDonald

Injured: Sam Gagner (concussion), Luke Schenn (lower body), Mark Streit (groin)

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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