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Morning Skate: Niemi in goal, Jordie Benn a healthy scratch as Stars take on Jets

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars went through a rigorous skate this morning at American Airlines Center as they prepare to wrap up a home-and-home series with the Winnipeg Jets. Stars coach Lindy Ruff was very vocal during the skate, shouting out after one drill: “Again. That’s not good enough.”

After the skate, Ruff said he was trying to get players going after Wednesday’s optional practice in Frisco.

“I thought we started the skate kind of lackadaisical,” Ruff said. “When we don’t skate the day before, we want the morning skate to be a little more game-like, and I just thought we don’t want that to carry over.”

Said defenseman John Klingberg, “He just wants us to be ready, get the mindset going again with the optional yesterday. Playing the [same team two games in a row] is tough. We know they are going to come out hard, and he is just trying to keep us ready.”

Antti Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice this morning for the Stars, so he is expected to get the start in goal. This will be the second straight start for Niemi, who stopped 22 of 25 shots in the Stars’ 5-3 win over the Jets in Winnipeg Tuesday.


       WATCH: Winning vs. Winnipeg
       OTR: Success in the Central

The Stars will make a change on defense, bringing in Jyrki Jokipakka and scratching Jordie Benn. Jokipakka, who has been a scratch the past six games and nine of the past ten, is expected to skate on the third pair with Patrik Nemeth.

“Just a solid game, start with a solid defending game,” Ruff said of Jokipakka. “I know he’s been out for a while, but you look at his play in the first 40 games for us, Jyrki played a lot of good hockey, so it’d be good to see what he can do tonight again.”

Jamie Oleksiak will sit out as a healthy scratch for an eleventh straight game. This will be the first healthy scratch for Jordie Benn this season. Ruff said that third defensive pair continues to be a work in progress, and it’s something he is thinking about constantly.

“Think about it every single game and you think about the ramifications of guys in and out all the time,” Ruff said. “I think it’s tough with any team. I think this is the time of year I’ve always felt you try to remain consistent. Even though some players will have some bad games, you got to show some faith in them. But if all of a sudden if play the drops off enough, I think that we have an opportunity to have some guys step in and create some pressure to play even better.”

It appears there will be some shuffling of the forward lines as well. Valeri Nichushkin skated on the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin this morning. Jason Spezza centered Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky.

Travis Moen (lower body) and Patrick Eaves (illness) remain out.

There was significant news from the Jets this morning. Center Bryan Little is out for the rest of the season with a compression fracture of the T6 vertebrae.

“It is mid to lower back, so it was a significant amount of force that caused the compression fracture and he will be out for the remainder of the regular season. I think it’s an eight-week injury,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said.

Little was injured last Thursday when he was hit by Tampa Bay’s Anton Stralman. Little co-leads the Jets with 17 goals and ranks second on the team with 42 points. Winnipeg has recalled Matt Halischuk from the AHL. Michael Hutchinson will get the start in goal tonight. Hutchinson is 6-11-1 with a .288 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.

Who: Winnipeg Jets 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 SpezzaAles Hemsky

Antoine RousselCody EakinPatrick Sharp

Vernon FiddlerRadek FaksaColton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaPatrik Nemeth

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Patrick Eaves (illness), Travis Moen (lower body)

Scratched: Jordie Benn, Jamie Oleksiak

Nikolaj Ehlers – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler

Andrew Ladd – Mathieu Perreault – Drew Stafford

Joel Armia - Adam Lowry – Alex Burmistrov

Chris Thorburn – Andrew Copp – Anthony Peluso

Tobias Enstrom – Dustin Byfuglien

Ben Chiarot - Tyler Myers

Adam Pardy – Jacob Trouba

Michael Hutchinson

Ondrej Pavelec

Injured: Grant Clitsome (back), Bryan Little (back), Mark Stuart (hand)

Scratched: Matt Halischuk, 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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