Stars forward Valeri Nichushkin returned from his conditioning assignment in the AHL and practiced with the Dallas Stars on Monday, but is a question mark for Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings at American Airlines Center.
Nichushkin, who has been out since Oct. 11 with a hip/groin issue, played two games with the Texas Stars over the weekend, registering one assist.
“Val got through the weekend OK,” said Dallas coach Lindy Ruff. “And then I thought at practice it was pretty good. Still, I think he is a little bit behind on the conditioning.”
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who has been out since suffering a fractured ankle in the preseason, continues to practice and has been medically cleared to play.
“I am getting close,” Gonchar said.
“It’s a matter of getting a good conditioning read on Sergei,” Ruff said. “He’s healthy enough to play. It’s just where his condition in level is at.”
And indication that Gonchar is close is that the Stars assigned defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka to the Texas Stars of the AHL on Monday. The Stars now have six defensemen on the active roster and taking Gonchar off injured reserve would make it seven.
Forward Ales Hemsky, who left Saturday’s game with an upper body injury, was back on the ice Monday and is probable for Tuesday’s game against the Kings.
“Gave it a try. He got through practice, which is good,” Ruff said. “I would fully anticipate that he would be able to play.”
Stars forward Tyler Seguin did not practice Monday. The reason was that he spent Sunday at the dentist’s office.
“He had some wisdom teeth issues and he missed practiced today. He had that dealt with yesterday,” Ruff said. “All indications are he’ll take the day off today and be able to play tomorrow.”
Ruff mentioned his team’s lack of energy after the team dropped back-to-back games to Anaheim and Minnesota over the weekend. Asked about dealing with that energy issue following Monday’s practice, Ruff explained further.
“It’s shorter shifts. It’s the willingness not to go by plays. We went by some plays,” Ruff said. “It basically becomes the will to stop and compete instead of guessing and hoping another guy gets the job done. We were guessing on the offensive side on some of those plays, on some of the battles, and we guessed wrong.”
The Stars open a three-game homestand Tuesday when they faceoff against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles. The Kings – like the Stars – are winless in four games, but it will still be a good test and an opportunity for the Stars to get their game in order.
“For me, I think it starts first we play well in our end and go out from there,” Ruff said. “We’ve been working hard on the offensive zone stuff where we need to create more second opportunities. I think we’ve played too much one-on-one hockey, which has hurt us in the offensive zone. The puck has to move quicker, D has to do a good job of moving pucks through. That’ll lead to first and second opportunities. We’ve been way behind that marker since day one and I think it finally caught up to us.”
Sticking with the top line?
With the Stars in a funk, there’s the question if Ruff might juggle things around on his forward lines. A key question is if he’d be willing to break up the top line of Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin. The Stars coach said the status of forward Valeri Nichushkin will play a role in that decision.
“For me, it depends on where Val’s at, hinge on the decision to what type of lines to put together,” Ruff said. “For me, the scoring will come if we win enough battles and we play hard enough. I didn’t think we got inside hard enough and our determination to get the second opportunities and get the loose pucks, we were a step behind.”
Stars practice lineup
With Tyler Seguin not practicing, here’s how the Stars lined up in Monday’s practice.
Jamie Benn – Jason Spezza – Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Patrick Eaves – Vernon Fiddler – Ales Hemsky
Erik Cole – Shawn Horcoff – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Brenden Dillon
Kevin Connauton – Sergei Gonchar
Jyrki Jokipakka – Jamie Oleksiak
Not practicing: Tyler Seguin (wisdom teeth)
Injured: D Patrik Nemeth (arm laceration)
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.