Opening night is finally here. The Dallas Stars drop the puck on the 2014-15 season tonight when they host the Chicago Blackhawks at American Airlines Center.
“I think both teams will be anxious to get this going,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I think it’s going to be a battle of who’s going to win those key one-on-one opportunities to either defend a situation or create one. You want to get off to a good start. They want to get off to a good start. We’re going to get ready.”
The Stars are excited about the challenge of facing Chicago, one of the top teams in the league and considered by many to be this season’s favorite for the Stanley Cup.
“You might as well start with one of the best in the league,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “They are a great team and they’ve been a great team for a number of years now. It’s going to be a good test for us.”
“It’s always special to play those guys,” said Stars forward Antoine Roussel. “It’s an emotional game. Those two teams don’t like each other too much, so those are games you want to be part of.”
Ruff sees the Stars and Blackhawks as two teams that are a lot alike.
“Well, I think we’ve got similar teams – mobile defense, real good on the offensive end,” Ruff said. “I think they’re three lines deep with their offensive talent. They’ve got a great goaltender. When it comes to speed, we’re right there with them. When it comes to their offensive creativity, I think we’re similar, and it should be a heck of a match.”
Lineup notes: Cole a scratch, Eaves to play on second line
Forward Erik Cole spent most of the preseason playing on a line with Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, but he won’t be there when the Stars start the season tonight against the Blackhawks. He’ll be a healthy scratch. It’s a result of Cole being late for Monday’s practice at American Airlines Center.
“Missing a practice is tough, especially this time of year,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I think pulling him out hurts us where we had him, but at the same time I have a team to run. … Everybody has to respect that there are rules, and you have to be places. It’s over with. I told him this morning that it is over with, and we are moving on. To get back in the lineup, I expect the Erik Cole that was going well in camp.”
Veteran Patrick Eaves will play left wing on the line with Spezza and Hemsky Thursday night. Eaves had a strong showing in camp and the preseason.
“Eaves has definitely earned the ice time. He’s had a good preseason, and he’s played well,” Ruff said.
And Ruff believes Eaves, signed as a free agent in July, will be a good fit on the line.
“He’s a shooter, and he’s a real good shooter,” said Ruff. “I think positionally, he’s a real sound player and a veteran guy that knows how to play the game, loves going around the front of the net. I think with those two guys that’s a good fit.”
Eaves played on a line with Spezza early in his career when both players were in Ottawa. He gets another chance Thursday night.
“It’s a great opportunity to be in the lineup and to play with those guys,” Eaves said. “I am looking forward to it a lot.”
Valeri Nichushkin will get the nod on the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
Jamie Oleksiak is expected to be a healthy scratch on defense.
Kari Lehtonen will get the start in goal.
Who: Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Valeri Nichushkin
Patrick Eaves – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
Brenden Dillon – Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth – Kevin Connauton
Injured: Sergei Gonchar (ankle), Rich Peverley (heart)
Scratched: Erik Cole, Jamie Oleksiak
Blackhawks projected lineup
Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad – Patrick Shaw – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Brad Richards – Ben Smith
Daniel Carcillo - Marcus Kruger – Jeremy Morin
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Trevor Van Riemsdyk
Johnny Oduya – David Rundblad
Injured: Kris Versteeg (lower body), Michal Rozsival (upper body)
Scratched: Kyle Cumiskey
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.