The big question heading into the season opener for the Dallas Stars was who would get the start in goal, and the answer came at Thursday morning's pregame skate when Antti Niemi was first off the ice, indicating he would get the nod in net against the Anaheim Ducks at American Airlines Center.
Niemi, who will split time in goal with Kari Lehtonen this season, was sharp in the preseason, posting a 1.83 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in 164 minutes of playing time.
"Antti had a very strong preseason for us," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "He played very well; he looked refreshed and quick. In conversations with him, he is very hungry to get going."
The Stars did not run lines or defense pairings at this morning's skate, so the guess is they will go with the lines and defense pairs they ran for the past three days in practice.
Tyler Seguin is expected to center Jamie Benn and Patrick Eaves on the top line, and Jason Spezza should center the second line with Patrick Sharp and Jiri Hudler on the wings. Radek Faksa is expected to center the third line with Antoine Roussel and Brett Ritchie, and Devin Shore should be in the middle on the fourth line with Lauri Korpikoski and Adam Cracknell on the wings.
The defense pairs this week were Jordie Benn-John Klingberg; Johnny Oduya-Stephen Johns; Dan Hamhuis-Patrick Nemeth. Ruff said Wednesday he was looking for some balance with the pairs, and with only two right-shots in Klingberg and Johns, he liked the way the left-shot Nemeth had been playing on the right side.
Curtis McKenzie and Esa Lindell skated late this morning, so they are expected to be tonight's healthy scratches.
Right wing Ales Hemsky (groin) and defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (lower body muscle strain) both took part in the morning skate.
"Both guys are better, and the fact that both of them are out there is a great sign," Ruff said. "I think Jamie could be available for Saturday if needed. Ales needs more practice time. He hasn't been on the ice. If we can get him some quality practice time or hard workouts, he could be available sometime next week."
Ritchie brothers meet again, this time in NHL
Stars forward Brett Ritchie and his younger brother, Nick, have played against each other before but tonight they will square off for the first time in an NHL game. Nick Ritchie is a left wing with the Anaheim Ducks and is expected to skate on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry tonight.
The anticipation for this meeting has been building since the NHL schedule came out in the summer. But both knew there was work to be done, and that was make the NHL roster.
"I know we looked on the calendar and we saw that it was game one, so we knew we had to have good camps and make sure that we were there on opening night. It will be fun," Brett Ritchie said.
The two squared off in last season's AHL Calder Cup playoffs when Brett's Texas Stars took on Nick's San Diego Gulls. But this time, it will be different.
"You grow up and the goal is to play in the NHL, and it is a dream come true to be up here and playing a game against each other," Brett Ritchie said. "We've done it in juniors and the minors, and this is the top level in the world, so this is an exciting night."
John Gibson will get the start in goal tonight for Anaheim. He posted a 2.02 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in the preseason. The Ducks made a coaching change in the offseason, firing Bruce Boudreau and bringing back Randy Carlyle, who led the Ducks to the Stanley Cup in 2007. Ex-Dallas Star Ryan Garbutt is in the lineup for the Ducks tonight. Anaheim is missing two key players in forward Rickard Rakell and defenseman Hampus Lindholm. Both are restricted free agents who have yet to sign contracts. The Ducks claimed forward Emerson Etem off waivers from Vancouver. Etem is expected to join the Ducks in Pittsburgh this weekend.
Who: Anaheim Ducks 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 - Patrick Eaves
Patrick Sharp - Jason Spezza - Jiri Hudler
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Brett Ritchie
Lauri Korpikoski - Devin Shore - Adam Cracknell
Jordie Benn - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns
Dan Hamhuis - Patrik Nemeth
Scratched: Esa Lindell, Curtis McKenzie
Injured: Jamie Oleksiak (muscle strain), Ales Hemsky (groin), Cody Eakin (knee), Mattias Janmark (knee)
Ducks Projected Lineup
Nick Ritchie - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano - Ryan Kesler - Jakob Silfverberg
Mason Raymond - Antoine Vermette - Nick Sorensen
Ryan Garbutt - Chris Wagner - Jared Boll
Cam Fowler - Josh Manson
Simon Despres - Sami Vatanen
Jacob Larsson - Kevin Bieksa
Scratched: Clayton Stoner, Korbinian Holzer, Joseph Cramarossa
Injured: Nate Thompson (Achilles)
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.