The Dallas Stars paid dearly to earn two points in Denver Thursday night, as second-line center Jason Spezza left the game in the second period with an “upper-body” injury.
Spezza, who scored the first goal of the night, was driven into the end boards by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Francois Beauchemin. Spezza went down face-first and Beauchemin fell on top of him. The center got up slowly and skated off the ice under his own steam, but did not return to the game. In his post-game comments, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said Spezza would be out “…more than a few days.”
Because the Stars have carried eight defensemen on their roster all season, they’ve only had room for thirteen forwards. Fourth-line winger Colton Sceviour missed Thursday’s game after getting his head bounced off the dasher boards by Dustin Byfuglien Tuesday night in Winnipeg, leaving Dallas with twelve forwards. Spezza’s injury, coupled with uncertainty as to Sceviour’s status, means one player (and perhaps two) currently in Cedar Park will be making the drive up I-35 to Dallas Friday. Who might that be, and what might a Spezza-less lineup look like?
The Stars “Sans- Spezza” Look
Lindy Ruff is not afraid to mix his lines up when things aren’t going as planned. The coach’s frequent mixing-and-matching of forward combinations has its own descriptive term: “Ruffling.” Just to give one example, the line of Antoine Roussel – Mattias Janmark – Ales Hemsky was Dallas’ best trio in the week or so leading up to the All-Star break. In the two games since, Cody Eakin has centered that line, while Janmark has skated on Spezza’s wing. After Spezza left the game Thursday night, Ruff moved Janmark to center and shortened his bench: Vernon Fiddler had a single 38-second shift in the third period, while Travis Moen watched the final frame, as well as overtime, from the best seat in the barn.
The leading candidates for a call-up are center Radek Faksa and right wing Brett Ritchie. In eighteen games with Dallas this season, Faksa hasn’t looked out of place, and since his last stint in Big D, he’s been tearing up the AHL:
— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) February 5, 2016
While the young Czech has definitely earned time with the big club, he’s a center, which means either he, Janmark, Eakin or Fiddler would have to move to the wing. If Faksa gets the call, the Stars lineup for Saturday night’s tilt with Chicago could look something like this:
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Valeri Nichushkin
Patrick Sharp – Mattias Janmark – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ales Hemsky
Travis Moen – Radek Faksa – Vernon Fiddler
Because of Dallas’ depth down the middle, bringing up right wing Brett Ritchie makes sense, too. The 6’3″, 220 lb. forward didn’t play a game until December 8 due to a September wrist injury which required surgery. The big right wing has 10-3-13 in 23 games with the Texas Stars, and would provide Dallas with a welcome physical, net-front presence. If Ritchie gets the call, look for him to skate, at least early on, with Moen and Fiddler, and to see time on the power play. Only one thing is certain where the Stars’ forward lines are concerned: They’re going to get “Ruffled.”
Matt blogged about all things hockey at On Goal Analysis/The OGA Blogs from 2008-2014 and has written several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News. He began covering the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers in August 2015. Matt is also writing a biography of “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers and the Madison Square Garden Corporation.