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Stars-Penguins Morning Skate

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

It will be the same lineup tonight for the Dallas Stars when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at the American Airlines Center. Kari Lehtonen, who has stopped 42 of 43 shots over the last two games, will be back in net.

Cody Eakin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff, who all sat out Friday’s practice, were on the ice for this morning’s skate and will be in tonight.

Eakin left Thursday’s game against Toronto after taking a shoulder to the head from Toronto forward Colton Orr, but said he is doing fine after a day of rest.

“It just rung my bell a little bit,” Eakin said. “I had a day off yesterday to make sure everything was fine and it feels good today.”

It’s all about time and space

When watching tonight’s Stars-Penguins game think time and space. Those were the buzz words from both sides coming into tonight’s game.

Stars defenseman Sergei Gonchar was asked about how to handle Pittsburgh’s high-end talent of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others.

“You have to take away their time and space,” said Gonchar. “If you give them any room on the ice, they have so much skill, they are going to take advantage of you. You have to make sure you are close to them, have good gap and not give them much.”

Crosby was asked about handling the Stars top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin.

“You have to be aware of those guys,” Crosby said. “You want to play your own game, but you definitely have to be aware of them. You have to take away their time and space. Guys are going to get their chances, you just have to make sure you limit them.”

Ex-Star Niskanen thriving with Penguins

Former Stars defenseman Matt Niskanen is having a breakout year with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Niskanen, the Stars’ first round pick in 2005, ranks 12th among NHL defensemen in scoring with 30 points (7 goals, 23 assists) and comes into tonight’s game riding a six-game points streak. He also leads the NHL with a plus-29 rating.

“I’ve taken the attitude this year that my job is to defend and be the best I can all around, and if I chip in offensively, great,” Niskanen said. “It’s certainly fun when you do that. You try to play a good, all-around game and the points will come with that.”

The 27-year-old Niskanen came up big earlier this season when the Pittsburgh blue line was hit hard by injuries, and Niskanen became the team’s top defenseman, anchoring a group on the blue line that didn’t have a lot of experience.

“It was unfortunate for our team, we are going to need those guys [that were injured] in the long run, but it presented an opportunity,” Niskanen said. “The coaches played the heck out of me. I got to play in every situation, top power play and penalty killing more. There were big minutes at the end of the game. That was a role that is not usual for me, so it was a fun opportunity and the best part was that our team kept winning. That was a fun time of the year.”

Niskanen had his ups and downs as a Star. He had a great rookie season in 2007-08, but then his play slipped after that. He was sent to Pittsburgh along with James Neal in the deal that brought Alex Goligoski to Dallas in 2011. Niskanen said he needed a fresh start.

“At that time, things weren’t going well for me. I had zero confidence,” he said. “I wasn’t playing a lot and I had zero confidence and it was good to just get a fresh opportunity, a new set of eyes on you. I thank Pittsburgh for the opportunity to build myself out of it.”

And he’s been able to build himself out of it in his three-plus years in Pittsburgh.

“I think he’s a guy who just continues to get better,” said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. “I think he’s been kind of thrown in different roles since he’s been with our team. He’s played a lot of power play at different times and really done a good job of that. So I think he’s just continued to get better, but probably the biggest thing is when he’s been put in different situations he’s just handled it well and has played really consistently for us.”

Saturday’s game

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Stars projected lineup

Jamie BennTyler SeguinValeri Nichushkin
Antoine RousselCody EakinRyan Garbutt
Erik ColeVernon FiddlerRay Whitney
Rich PeverleyShawn HorcoffAlex Chiasson

Alex GoligoskiTrevor Daley
Brenden DillonJordie Benn
Aaron RomeSergei Gonchar

Kari Lehtonen
Dan Ellis

Penguins projected lineup

Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Chuck Kobasew
Jussi Jokinen – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Taylor Pyatt – Brandon Sutter – Jayson Megna
Tanner Glass – Andrew Ebbett – Craig Adams

Paul Martin – Brooks Orpik
Rob Scuderi – Kris Letang
Olli Maatta – Matt Niskanen

Marc-Andre Fleury
Jeff Zatkoff

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 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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