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Niemi in goal as Stars open season vs. Penguins

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Antti Niemi will get the start in goal tonight when the Dallas Stars open the 2015-16 season against the Pittsburgh Penguins at American Airlines Center.

Niemi, acquired in the offseason from San Jose and signed to a three-year contract, will share the net this season with Kari Lehtonen, who will not be the opening night goaltender for the Stars for the first time since 2010.

“Niemi was good the last (preseason) game (at Chicago). I thought his preseason was pretty good,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “We know we’re going to use both goaltenders. So for me, Antti is the guy that gets the nod.”

Niemi, who backstopped Chicago to a Stanley Cup in 2010, posted a 3.00 goals-against average and .877 save percentage in the preseason.

“It’s been lots of growth starting with a new team, a new coach, and some new stuff on the ice. I think my game has been going forward, how I feel about it,” Niemi said. “[The final preseason game in Chicago] felt very good, very comfortable and relaxed. I enjoyed my game there.”

One Dallas player who has seen a lot of Niemi is defenseman Jason Demers, who played with him several seasons in San Jose.

“He’s always consistent, and he works his tail off,” Demers said. “You know every night that you are going to get good positioning, anything low there is a 99 percent chance that it is not going in. And he’s positive. We’ve got a good tandem here with Niemi and Lehtonen. We are confident in both of them, and it’s up to us to play well in front of them and not give up those Grade A scoring chances.”

At this morning’s skate Ruff rolled out the same forward lines and defense pairs that he used in the last two practices, including Cody Eakin centering the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the wings. Ruff said nothing was set in stone.

“Well, it’s something that I want to look at time to time, just like I had Cody play on the wing when we played here against Tampa,” Ruff said. “So those two guys (Eakin and Seguin) are going to sometimes share some time, and it’s going to depend on how [Mattias] Janmark plays in the middle. But they could share some time in the middle ice, they could both be playing as centermen, but it’s an option that we use in practice and want to look at. There’s no guarantee tonight Eakin’s going to play in the middle, but I wanted Tyler on the wing a little bit, and he might be right back in the middle tonight.”

Jason Spezza centered the second line this morning with Valeri Nichushkin and Patrick Sharp on his wings. Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg skated on the top defense pair. Johnny Oduya and Jason Demers skated together and Jyrki Jokipakka and Jordie Benn were the third pair.

Forward Colton Sceviour and defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth skated late this morning, indicating that they will be tonight’s healthy scratches.


Penguins watch

Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start in goal tonight for the Penguins. Forward Phil Kessel, acquired during the offseason from Toronto, is expected to skate on Pittsburgh’s top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

“Phil’s had three games with [Crosby] and [Kunitz] to play in the preseason, and I think they’re starting to get some chemistry,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “I see them on the power play as well, but it probably always takes a couple weeks for new player to get ingrained with the team and new linemates, different style of play maybe from what he’s used to. But Phil’s been great so far. I like the way he’s come into camp as far as his conditioning in the summer.”


Quotable

“Really excited, it absolutely doesn’t go away. You don’t sleep well. You’re a little anxious, nervous. Watched hockey last night and then look forward to get going tonight.” – Stars coach Lindy Ruff on the regular season getting underway


Thursday’s game

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins 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 BennCody EakinTyler Seguin

Valeri NichushkinJason SpezzaPatrick Sharp

Travis MoenVernon FiddlerPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselMattias JanmarkAles Hemsky


Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaJordie Benn


Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen


Scratches:
Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Colton Sceviour


Penguins projected lineup

Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Phil Kessel

Sergei Plotnikov – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist

Beau Bennett – Nick Bonino – David Perron

Bobby Farnham – Matt Cullen – Daniel Sprong


Ian Cole – Kris Letang

Olli Maatta – Ben Lovejoy

Rob Scuderi – Brian Dumoulin


Marc-Andre Fleury

Jeff Zatkoff


Injured: Pascal Dupuis (lower body), Eric Fehr (elbow)

Scratched: Adam Clendening, Tim Erixon, Oskar Sundqvist.

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.

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