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At the Rink: Predators at Stars

by Steve Hunt / NHL.com

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars are one of two teams in the NHL yet to lose consecutive games this season, and look to keep that trend going when they host the Nashville Predators at American Airlines Center on Thursday (8:30 PM ET; FS-TN, FS-SW).

Along with the Washington Capitals, currently on a nine-game winning streak, Dallas (27-8-3), which lost 6-3 at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, has not lost back-to-back games this season, and Stars coach Lindy Ruff has a good idea why.

"Well, I think so far this year we've seen after that loss, our next game has a lot of determination to make sure we don't lose two in a row, and that's hard," Ruff said. "We're going to see that determination again tonight. I think a lot of it again is going to depend on the energy we're bringing into the game."

Ruff has made two changes to his forward lines with veteran right wing Ales Hemsky sidelined with a lower body injury. Hemsky was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday after leaving in the second period against Columbus, and will be replaced on the second line alongside left wing Mattias Janmark and center Jason Spezza by right wing Valeri Nichushkin.

Nichushkin started the Columbus game on the fourth line but moved up to the second line after Hemsky departed. Patrick Eaves, a healthy scratch on Tuesday, replaces Nichushkin on the fourth line alongside left wing Travis Moen and center Vernon Fiddler.

"Yeah, I think it's a great opportunity for him. He's struggled for a bit again and I think some of those struggles are what young players go through," Ruff said of Nichushkin. "I'd like to see him physically again start to dominate some of those battles. I think that's where it all started for him. He was winning battles, he was creating his own space, and when he's doing that he's a very effective player for us, and I think playing with [Spezza], he should get that opportunity."

Goalie Antti Niemi, who relieved Kari Lehtonen on Tuesday after Lehtonen allowed three goals on 14 shots in the first period, was first off the ice after morning skate and will start for Dallas.

Nashville (18-12-7) is 3-1-1 over its past five games, including a 4-3 overtime loss at the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. Predators coach Peter Laviolette is keeping his forward lines and defensive pairs identical from that defeat.

Goalie Pekka Rinne, 0-5-2 with a 3.31 goals-against-average and a .880 save percentage since his last road win on Nov. 5 at the Minnesota Wild, was first off the ice after morning skate and will start his 32nd game of the season.

"I think Pekka [Rinne] is playing really well right now," Laviolette said. "We got to continue to do a good job of layering in front of him and defending in front of him, tying up and allowing him the opportunity to see pucks. When we do that, we seem to have more success."

Here are the projected lineups:

PREDATORS

Filip ForsbergMike RibeiroCraig Smith

Colin WilsonMike FisherViktor Arvidsson

Miikka SalomakiCalle JarnkrokJames Neal

Eric NystromPaul GaustadAustin Watson

Roman JosiShea Weber

Barret JackmanSeth Jones

Mattias EkholmRyan Ellis

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Anthony Bitetto, Petter Granberg, Cody Hodgson.

Injured: Gabriel Bourque (undisclosed).

STARS

Jamie BennTyler SeguinPatrick Sharp

Mattias Janmark - Jason SpezzaValeri Nichushkin

Antoine RousselCody EakinColton Sceviour

Travis Moen - Vernon Fiddler - Patrick Eaves

Alex GoligoskiJohn Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki Jokipakka - Jordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Scratched: Radek Faksa, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak.

Injured: Ales Hemsky (lower body).

Status report: Rinne is starting for the 10th time over the past 11 games. … Faksa, who appeared in 14 NHL games earlier in the season, was recalled from Texas of the American Hockey League on Wednesday and likely will be a healthy scratch. … Nemeth is a healthy scratch for a seventh consecutive game while Oleksiak is for a ninth straight game.

Who's hot: The Predators are 3-0-0 on New Year's Eve. … Nashville defensemen have 29 goals this season, leading the League. … Nashville allows 26.7 shots per game, second-fewest in the NHL. … Jamie Benn leads the NHL with 23 goals and ranks second in the League with 50 points. Benn, on a six-game point streak, also has 31 points on home ice to lead the NHL. … Sceviour has a goal in three of his past four games. … Dallas is 5-1-0 in its past six games on New Year's Eve.

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