There was some good news on the injury front as the Dallas Stars prepared to take on the New Jersey Devils at American Airlines Center tonight. Jason Spezza will play in tonight's game, and Cody Eakin (knee) and Patrick Sharp (concussion) aren't far behind.
Spezza returns after missing five games with a lower-body injury. He is expected to play right wing on a line with Gemel Smith and Devin Shore.
"I feel pretty good," Spezza said. "I've put the work in the past few days and I feel I can hop right in and hopefully contribute."
Eakin and Sharp both skated with the team this morning. Eakin has been out since early in training camp with a knee injury. He could return later this week.
"I am guessing [Eakin] could be ready by Thursday or Saturday. Saturday at the latest," Ruff said. "He's done really well, skated the day before, and we'll get him a couple of practices. He's stated he is ready to go, but I think he needs a little practice time."
Sharp, who skated with the team on the recent road trip, has missed the past 12 games due to a concussion he suffered on Oct. 20 in a game against Los Angeles. He could be ready later this week as well.
"Sharp is based on how he is feeling," Ruff said. "We're moving him along and if he progresses he'd have an opportunity later in the week. That would probably be a Saturday."
There is still nothing new on forward Jiri Hudler who has missed 12 of the past 14 games, including the past seven, due to illness.
"His is just a total mystery," Ruff said. "He hasn't skated, still doesn't feel well. He has gone through a battery of different tests and still has some tests going on trying to find out where he is at."
Patrick Eaves didn't skate this morning, but he is expected to be in the lineup on a line with Antoine Roussel and Tyler Seguin. With Spezza drawing back in, Justin Dowling will be the odd-man out at forward. Stephen Johns will be back in on defense and Jamie Oleksiak and Esa Lindell will be the scratches on the blue line.
Tonight's game kicks off a four-game homestand for the Stars, who are coming off a five-game road trip that saw them go 2-1-2.
"It's good to be back home," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "We had a few good games on the road, and we got six of ten points, which is okay. We have to take advantage of the home crowd here. We have four [games] coming up and we'll start with this one tonight."
Devils Watch: Fiddler set to face Stars
The Devils will be without their top scorer tonight. Left wing Taylor Hall is out with a lower-body injury. The Devils are also without forward Mike Cammalleri who will miss a third straight game due to personal reasons. Cory Schneider will get the start in goal for the Devils, who come into tonight's game with four straight wins and a 7-1-2 record in their past ten games.
Tonight's game marks the return of Vernon Fiddler to Dallas. Fiddler, who played five seasons with the Stars, signed with the Devils as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The veteran forward has had an opportunity to spend some time with his family, which still lives here. And he'll be facing some familiar faces tonight on the ice.
"It's going to be an emotional night," Fiddler said. "My kids have been raised here, and I've got a lot of good friends across the hall. I am looking forward to it. I am excited to see what my new team can do against my old one."
"He was an awesome teammate, one of the best guys I know," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "He's a heart-and-soul guy, loves the game of hockey and is a fun guy to be around."
But it will be all business tonight on the ice.
"I don't think any of us will talk to him, we'll give him the silent treatment," Benn said.
"I'd rather that then the guys chit-chatting at me," Fiddler said. "It's going to be weird playing against these guys. It's going to be fun."
Who: New Jersey Devils 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 - Radek Faksa - Lauri Korpikoski
Antoine Roussel - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves
Gemel Smith - Devin Shore - Jason Spezza
Curtis McKenzie - Adam Cracknell - Brett Ritchie
Dan Hamhuis - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns
Patrik Nemeth - Jordie Benn
Scratched: Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak, Justin Dowling
Injured: Cody Eakin (knee), Patrick Sharp (concussion), Jiri Hudler (illness), Mattias Janmark (knee), Ales Hemsky (hip)
Devils Projected Lineup
PA Parenteau - Travis Zajac - Beau Bennett
Pavel Zacha - Adam Henrique - Kyle Palmieri
Reid Boucher - Jacob Josefson - Devante Smith-Pelly
Sergey Kalinin - Vernon Fiddler - Nick Lappin
Andy Green - Damon Severson
Yohann Auvitu - Ben Lovejoy
John Moore - Kyle Quincey
Injuries: Mike Cammalleri (personal), Taylor Hall (lower body), Jon Merrill (finger)
This story was not subject to 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.