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Morning Skate: Stars will keep riding Niemi as they look to solve Avalanche

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars
Antti Niemi will get the start in goal tonight as the Dallas Stars look to solve the mystery that is the Colorado Avalanche.

The Stars have lost eight straight games against Colorado (0-6-2) and are 1-8-3 in the past 12 games against the Avalanche.

“We’ve got to go in with a defensive mindset,” said Stars center Vernon Fiddler. “We’ve given up some leads in this building, and we want to go in with a good checking mindset. We have to do the right things, be smart at the blue lines and play our game.

In those past eight losses, the Stars have averaged 2.4 goals per game while allowing 4.0 despite outshooting Colorado in six of the eight games.

“We’ve got to be prepared to play the tightest game we possibly can and maybe win a game 1-0. That might have been the game we could have won last time,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “A lot of the games have looked the same, dominate play and dominate possession and find a way to lose. We’ve got to find a way to win.

“We’ll talk about our structure in some of the games we’ve played that have gotten away on us. We do have to change a few things and the things we are going to change I am not going to tell you, but we are going to try to tighten it up.”

This will be the fifth straight start for Niemi, the longest run of consecutive starts for a Dallas goalie this season. He’s coming off a solid 21-save effort in Tuesday’s 5-3 win over Winnipeg.

“I like what he’s done so far,” Ruff said. “He gave us a heck of a game in Winnipeg. It’s come to the point now that where the guy that is playing the best – if we are not fatiguing him – will play.”

Kari Lehtonen hasn’t gotten a start since January 19 at Los Angeles. Niemi started all three games in the homestand before the All-Star break and the first two out of the break.

“Both goaltenders are good goaltenders; they’ve both been No.1 goaltenders. We’ve got to treat it that if one grabs the ball and runs with it, then it’s good for the team. The other guy is going to have to compete and when he goes in, make it tough for me to take him out again.”

Defenseman Jordie Benn will be back in the lineup tonight. He hasn’t played since Jan. 16 when he went out with a lower-body injury.

“I feel pretty good, so I want to get back in the lineup,” Benn said.

Benn is expected to skate on the third pair with Patrik Nemeth. Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak are expected to be scratched on defense.

Colton Sceviour, who didn’t practice Wednesday due to an upper-body injury, skated Thursday morning but is not expected to play tonight.

“He needs a little bit of time,” Ruff said. “He’s doing well today and that is good for him.”

With Sceviour out, Travis Moen will come into the lineup and skate on a line with Vernon Fiddler and Valeri Nichushkin.

The Stars (32-14-5) come into tonight’s game with two straight wins and three wins over their past four games.

Calvin Pickard will get the start in goal tonight for the Avalanche (27-23-3). Pickard has been handling the goaltending duties for Colorado while Semyon Varlamov dealt with a legal matter. Varlamov is expected back in goal this weekend. Pickard is 3-3-0 with a 2.78 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He’s faced the Stars once, stopping 22 of 24 shots in a 5-2 Colorado win early last season.

Who: Dallas Stars at Colorado Avalanche

Where: Pepsi Center

When: 8:00 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 96.7 FM/1310 AM

Jamie BennTyler SeguinPatrick Sharp

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselCody EakinAles Hemsky

Travis MoenVernon FiddlerValeri Nichushkin

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Patrik NemethJordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Jyrki Jokipakka, Jamie Oleksiak

Injured: Colton Sceviour (upper body)

Jarome Iginla – Nathan MacKinnon – Matt Duchene

Gabriel Landeskog – Carl Soderberg – Blake Comeau

Mikhail Grigorenko – Andreas Martinsen – Alex Tanguay

Cody McLeod – John Mitchell – Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin – Erik Johnson

Nick Holden – Tyson Barrie

Zach Redmond – Chris Bigras

Calvin Pickard

Semyon Varlamov

Injured: Reto Berra (ankle), Ben Street (chest), Brad Stuart (back surgery), Jesse Winchester (head)

Scratched: Andrew Bodnarchuk, Nate Guenin, Chris Wagner

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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