The Dallas Stars kick off a stretch of three games in four nights and four games in four different cities over six days when they host Tampa Bay tonight. With the schedule picking up, Stars coach Lindy Ruff opted for an optional skate at American Airlines Center this morning.
“For me, it’s the time of year where this gets a little bit tough,” said Ruff. “We’ve been on twice a day, and we’ve got four games in six nights and I think if you can stay off and just do some off-ice stuff and get ready, clear your mind. We have to do a good job of flushing the last game out and getting ready for the next one, so I’m going to try to change it up here from game-to-game.”
The Stars are expected to go with the same lineup they used in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Colorado. Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice, which is an indication that he will get the start in goal. It will be Lehtonen’s eighth straight start.
The Stars didn’t run lines or defense pairs this morning, but there’s a good chance Ruff goes with the same units he used the last game. David Schlemko skated late, so it appears he will be the scratch on defense.
The Stars recalled forward Brett Ritchie from the AHL Thursday morning and placed forward Travis Moen (lower body) on injured reserve retroactive to Jan. 31. Ritchie skated late, so it appears he will be a scratch. But Ruff said Ritchie will skate in warm-ups because a couple of guys were dinged up.
Jason Spezza sat out Wednesday’s practice but skated this morning. Erik Cole returned to the lineup Tuesday from an upper body injury but is still hurting.
“Spezza’s good. Everybody else is good. I think some of it was just maintenance. Some of it was guys just a little nicked up. It’s that time of year,” Ruff said. “Cole has been the one; he missed a little bit of time, and he’s the one we’d like to get him over the hump here.”
The Stars will face a big test in the Lightning, who lead the Eastern Conference with a 32-15-5 record. They lead the league in goals for at 3.17 per game. The Stars are second at 3.14 per game.
“They’re a team with some real creative, fast young players. They’re a little bit like us where they’ve got good skill and good speed throughout those four lines. The four lines are dangerous,” Ruff said. “Their goalie has been real good for them. That back end, their gap, even the preseason game their gap was real tight. We’re going to have to get pucks in behind them early, play the game real quick. Otherwise, they can suffocate you.”
Lightning watch: Vasilevskiy in goal; Brenden Morrow returns again
Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the start in goal for the Lightning tonight. The 20-year-old is 3-1-0 with a 1.76 goals against average and .937 save percentage in four games with Tampa Bay this season. He’s spent most of the season in the AHL, where he is 14-5-5 with a 2.38 goals against average and .919 save percentage for Syracuse.
Former Stars captain Brenden Morrow is back for another game in Dallas, and this time it is as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Some good memories here, obviously. It will probably be a little different tonight when you see the faces, different people in the stands and ex-teammates on the ice,” Morrow said. “It’s kind of awkward being in the locker room, but it’s just another rink when you get on the ice. I think when you see the faces it will be a little different tonight.”
Morrow, who was traded from Dallas to Pittsburg in March 2013, made his first return to Dallas last season as a member of the St. Louis Blues.
“I think that first one is more emotional coming back. It’s going to be a lot tougher. It was a lot tougher. This one is just another two points,” Morrow said.
Morrow has six points (two goals, four assists) in 46 games for the Lightning this season. He’s averaging 9:24 of ice time while playing on the fourth line. The numbers don’t jump out at you, but Morrow’s leadership has been key for the Lightning.
“He’s everything as advertised,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I think does he play the 20 minutes a night he used to when he was captain here? No, but there was one element that we’ve needed in my short tenure here is leadership in the room, a player that holds not only your own team accountable but when he steps on the ice, when he’s in your lineup he holds the other team accountable. He carries a respect with him that everybody in the league knows, and he plays hard minutes, below the dots. He’s a hard guy to play against, and he’s what we needed. And as I said, where we are a big part of that is because of what Brenden Morrow’s brought to our team.”
Asked about his role as a mentor to the Lightning’s young players, Morrow said it has been an adjustment.
“I think I am coming into it,” he said. “To get to this level you have a certain amount of drive in you, so you want to contribute more, play more or you’re always wanting more minutes. In that sense, it is not always easy. I know how good this team is. I know I can’t keep up with some of these guys the way they move out there. I am realistic about it, too. I do enjoy coming to the rink every day. The young energy this group has is a lot of fun.”
Who: Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest Plus
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Eaves
Erik Cole – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Brett Ritchie, David Schlemko
Conditioning assignment: Anders Lindback
Injured: Travis Moen (lower body), Valeri Nichushkin (hip), Patrik Nemeth (arm)
Lightning projected lineup
Valtteri Filppula – Steven Stamkos – Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Cedric Paquette – Jonathan Drouin
Brenden Morrow – Brian Boyle – Brett Connolly
Anton Stralman – Victor Hedman
Mark Barberio – Andrej Sustr
Jason Garrison – Nikita Nesterov
Scratched: J.T. Brown, Luke Witkowski
Injured: Matthew Carle (abdomen), Radko Gudas (knee), Mattias Ohlund (knee)