Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza is expected to return to the lineup tonight after missing the past six games due to an upper-body injury.
Spezza hasn’t played since Feb. 4 when he went hard into the boards in Denver after a hit from Colorado defenseman Francois Beauchemin.
“I like getting back playing. I miss the game when I don’t play and I have hard time watching up top,” Spezza said. “It feels like a long time, and I am happy to be back, happy to be back on the ice with the guys.”
Spezza is expected to begin tonight on the right wing on the second line with Cody Eakin at center and Antoine Roussel at left wing. He’s also expected to be back on the top power-play unit as well.
“He’s going to help on the power-play entries, and offensively he is having a nice year for us. We are looking forward to having him back,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said.
Ruff juggled a few of his other lines with Spezza back. Patrick Sharp is back on the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Patrick Eaves, who had been playing on the top line, skated on the fourth line this morning with Vernon Fiddler and Colton Sceviour. The line of Valeri Nichushkin, Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky stayed together.
Antti Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars this morning, so he is expected to get the start in goal. Niemi stopped 24 of 26 shots in the Stars’ 3-2 overtime win in Nashville Monday. He’s won four of his past five starts.
No changes are expected on defense. Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka are the expected scratches on defense. It will be the eighth straight scratch for Oleksiak and the seventh in the past eight games for Jokipakka.
The Stars (37-15-6) come into tonight’s game on a five-game points streak (4-0-1). They are one point behind Central Division and Western Conference-leading Chicago, but they have three games in hand on the Blackhawks.
Rookie Louis Domingue is expected to get the start in goal tonight for the Coyotes. He is 11-8-4 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .916 save percentage for the Coyotes, who have been without No. 1 goaltender Mike Smith (abdominal surgery) since early December. The Coyotes also lost backup Anders Lindback earlier this week to an Achilles tendon injury, and he could miss the rest of the season.
Arizona is coming off a 6-2 win over Montreal on Monday. The Coyotes come into tonight’s game four points out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. They’ll get their first look at the Stars this season.
“[We have to play] a real sound game. Structure has to be good. We have to make sure that we defend very well,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told media this morning. “They’ve got a lot of high-end skill on that team, and they play fast, so you’ve got to make sure that you are engaged in the game in that department.”
Who: Dallas Stars at Arizona Coyotes
Where: Gila River Arena
When: 8:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Jason Spezza
Valeri Nichushkin – Mattias Janmark – Ales Hemsky
Colton Sceviour – Vernon Fiddler – Patrick Eaves
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Jason Demers
Patrik Nemeth – Jordie Benn
Injured: Travis Moen (lower body)
Scratched: Jyrki Jokipakka, Jamie Oleksiak, Radek Faksa
Jordan Martinook - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker
Max Domi - Martin Hanzal - Anthony Duclair
Tobias Rieder - Brad Richardson - Shane Doan
Kyle Chipchura - Tyler Gaudet - Viktor Tikhonov
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy
Klas Dahlbeck - Zbynek Michalek
Kevin Connauton - Michael Stone
Injured: Boyd Gordon (upper body), Mike Smith (abdominal surgery), Joe Vitale (fractured orbital bone), Anders Lindback (Achilles tendon)
Scratched: Niklas Grossmann, Jarred Tinordi
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 DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.