Friday night, the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings square off in Big D. For both clubs, it’s the final game before the three-day holiday break.
The time off will be most welcome for the road-weary Kings, for whom tonight’s game is the seventh of an odyssey which began in Buffalo 11 days ago. They flew into Dallas after a 4-0 win over the Nashville Predators Thursday night and will skip the Friday morning skate.
The Stars, 2-1-1 so far on this homestand, could also use a break, if only to clear their heads and allow banged-up bodies to heal. Before any recovery can begin, though, they have one more game to play.
The Kings present a unique challenge for the Stars — they’re the second-best possession team in the NHL at even strength, an area in which Dallas has struggled this season. Coach Lindy Ruff compared Los Angeles to the St. Louis Blues Thursday, saying, “They’re a big, strong team that makes you earn the tough chances.”
Last night’s win in Nashville increased the Kings’ lead over the Stars to four points and moved them up to the first Wild Card slot in the Western Conference. A win tonight, particularly a win in regulation, would be a most welcome Christmas present for Dallas.
Los Angeles Kings at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 7:30 pm CST
Broadcast channels – FS-SW+, FS-W
2016-17 Season Series: October 20 – Kings 4, Stars 3 (OT)
Los Angeles Kings: 17-13-3 – 37 Points
Road Record: 7-9-2
Hot Players: Peter Budaj, Jeff Carter, Alec Martinez and Dustin Brown
Key Injuries: Jonathan Quick, Brayden McNabb and Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King – Jeff Carter – Marian Gaborik
Dustin Brown – Anze Kopitar – Devin Setoguchi
Tanner Pearson – Nic Dowd – Trevor Lewis
Andy Andreoff – Nick Shore – Jordan Nolan
Derek Forbort – Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin – Alec Martinez
Kevin Gravel – Tom Gilbert
Dallas Stars: 13-14-7 – 33 Points
Home Record: 9-5-3
Hot Players: Antti Niemi and John Klingberg
Key Injuries: Antoine Roussel, Stephen Johns, Patrick Sharp, Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Eaves
Lauri Korpikoski – Radek Faksa – Brett Ritchie
Jamie Oleksiak – Jason Spezza – Jiri Hudler
Curtis McKenzie – Devin Shore – Adam Cracknell
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis – Patrik Nemeth
Johnny Oduya – Jordie Benn
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap] Without a morning skate, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the Kings will start Jeff Zatkoff in net or go back to Peter Budaj, who blanked Nashville Thursday night. Either way, the Stars will find goals hard to come by, as the tandem has a combined save percentage of .972 over the last five games.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap] Don’t expect a big night from the Stars’ power play, either, as the Kings haven’t surrendered a power play goal since December 4, killing 22 penalties in a row since then.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap] Dallas could have a new look at forward Friday night. Antoine Roussel, injured during practice Wednesday, won’t play. Patrick Sharp isn’t quite at 100 percent and Cody Eakin has two games remaining in his suspension, so either Jamie Oleksiak or Patrik Nemeth (or both) could see some time on the left wing against Los Angeles.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap] Having a big body like Oleksiak at forward could be a very good thing for the Stars tonight. Ruff indicated his team will have to go to the tough areas, i.e., the front of the net, to score against the Kings, so the 6-foot-7 Oleksiak could find himself in a “round peg, round hole” situation.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]5)[/miptheme_dropcap] Nemeth will also dress tonight, as Stephen Johns is out. Johns was injured near the midpoint of Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Blues, but returned to finish the game. He’s not expected to dress Friday, however, so Nemeth will play in just his second game since November 29.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]6)[/miptheme_dropcap] In an unexpected move, Lindy Ruff is going with Kari Lehtonen in net tonight. Antti Niemi’s numbers have been much better at home than Lehtonen’s, but Ruff is likely looking ahead to the first game after the break, which is at Arizona. Lehtonen is expected to get that start, since Niemi struggles on the road. After Friday, the Stars won’t set foot on the ice again until the pregame warm-ups in Arizona, so tonight’s Kings game is, in effect, a very important “practice” for Kari.
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.